The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded multiple contracts for design, development and demonstration of an advanced airborne battlefield communications network.

Raytheon Systems, TRW and Sanders, a unit of Lockheed Martin, have each won $1 million contracts to begin work on the so-called Airborne Communications Node (ACN) programme.

The contract value could rise to $7.6 million each if various options are exercised.

The ACN payload would be deployed on the Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical Global Hawk high-altitude endurance unmanned air vehicle and possibly other aircraft, augmenting existing intra-theatre and longer-range communications systems. The ACN would provide voice and data transmissions, militarised tactical paging, Internet-like data networking, tactical common datalink interface and communications satellite support.

The ACN project will be executed in two phases. The first stage will involve the three companies conducting proof-of-concept flight demonstrations within 17 months. Although the ultimate goal is to integrate the ACN payload on the Global Hawk, the flight demonstration will use a manned aircraft.

One contractor will then be selected to begin the second research phase, which is expected to run for 24 months.

Source: Flight International