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Raytheon launches flight tests of persistent close air support

Raytheon has started flight tests of the persistent close air support (PCAS) system, the third phase of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) effort to provide ground troops with faster, more accurate close air support.

Raytheon plans to install the PCAS system on a Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt to test air performance and connectivity with ground-based joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) equipped with a PCAS ground unit.

"PCAS will help reduce close air support response times from as long as one hour to just six minutes," Tom Bussing, Raytheon vice president of Advanced Missile Systems, says in a prepared statement. "By delivering critical information to decision makers more quickly, PCAS will save lives."

Raytheon serves as systems integrator for the programme, and is working with partners Rockwell Collins, General Electric, BAE Systems and 5-D Systems. It won the $25 million, 18-month phase-3 contract in February. The entire three-year DARPA programme is funded at $82 million, according to DARPA.

The first phase involved identifying relevant technologies, demonstrating concepts and development of target-identification systems. The system’s design and ground system were finalized in phase 2, and it was cleared for installation on multiple aircraft at minimal cost.

PCAS will enable ground troops, joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) and combat aircrews to share real-time situational awareness and weapons systems data, Raytheon says. The system allows for fast identification of multiple targets at once, which gives JTACs the opportunity to carefully choose appropriate precision guided weapons to reduce the risk of collateral damage and friendly fire. Currently the mission is completed using paper maps and verbal communications between ground troops in enemy contact and pilots flying in to support them.

Digitally-linking close air support (CAS) aircraft like the A-10 with ground controllers is intended improve both the speed and accuracy of CAS missions, which can take up to an hour to carry out, DARPA says. The agency wants to cut that wait time to under 6min.

The airborne component of the system has modular smart launcher electronics, which makes it platform agnostic. After flight testing is completed, PCAS will be made available for integration into other aircraft.

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