Thales Defence UK is developing a roll-on roll-off mission operator's console for the Airtanker bid for the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA). It uses technology developed for the Westland Sea King AEW7 airborne early warning helicopter.

Airtanker - a consortium comprising Rolls-Royce, EADS, Brown & Root, Cobham's FR Aviation and Thales - is offering new Airbus A330s for FSTA, a 27-year privately financed programme potentially worth £14 billion ($20 billion). The consortium is competing against the Tanker & Transport Service Company, a joint venture comprising BAE Systems, Boeing, Serco and Spectrum Capital, which is offering used Boeing 767s.

Thales senior marketing manager, airborne EW and mission systems, Steve Philips says the console will provide all the necessary control including operation of the Link 16 datalink, display of tactical information from the electronic warfare (EW)system and the refuelling equipment.

The FSTA winner will also offer the aircraft to commercial third parties, so all military equipment, including the console, air-to-air refuelling systems, defensive aids, and electronic warfare equipment, must be removable from the aircraft. Philips says a number of airlines have already committed to third party use of the FSTA.

Development of the console, says Philips, will mean the Airtanker bid is a three-crew aircraft, easing workload by allowing the pilots to fly the aircraft while the third person manages the mission.

For the aircraft to be used for commercial operations, Philips says, it will need a commercial flight management system (FMS), which can be achieved by replacing a single computer card. A Thales Avionics FMS will be used in the console, with the military navigation system being connected to the Thales console allowing the operator to redirect the aircraft in flight as a mission develops.

Hardware and software in the system will be derived from equipment being developed for the Sea King AEW7, which is under test and due to enter service with the Royal Navy next year. The Thales EW techniques generator is common to the Raytheon ASTOR ground surveillance aircraft and the BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft. The EW techniques generator is part of the defensive aids system and provides cues to evade hostile emitters.

Source: Flight International