Northrop Grumman will prepare to modify the MQ-4C Triton unmanned air system with an emerging technology that can be used to help the maritime surveillance aircraft sense and avoid other objects in flight.
The US Naval Air Systems Command intends to award a contract to sole-source Northrop to execute a risk reduction phase of the new sense-and-avoid technology, the agency says in a 10 January acquisition notice.
The contract should smooth the process of integrating the new technology – an unmanned version of the Airborne Collision Avoidance System X (ACAS Xu) – at some point in the future, the notice says.
After completing the risk reduction phase, NAVAIR plans to award a contract to Northrop to complete an engineering change proposal on the MQ-4C that integrates the hardware and software for the ACAS Xu.
As it approaches the end of a long development phase, NAVAIR plans to initially deploy the MQ-4C with a due regard radar to help avoid other aircraft while flying through airspace. The MQ-4C’s role is to fly surveillance orbits above 50,000ft, scanning the oceans and seas for suspicious and hostile vessels. It will need to descend to lower altitudes to take a closer look at some targets, as well as to ascend and descend at the beginning and end of each mission.
The traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS II) has been mandated on manned transport aircraft in 2000 to automatically warn pilots of potential collision threats, but the system is not designed to use the satellite navigation systems mandated by the US Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen system.
The Lincoln Laboratory in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed ACAS X to work with the NextGen system as a replacement for TCAS II. The laboratory also is developing the ACAS Xu version for unmanned aircraft, such as MQ-4C.