Service to carry on developing key tool as funding is resolved
The US Air Force has agreed to continue developing a critical network-centric warfare tool also wanted by the UK Ministry of Defence, resolving a funding crisis that emerged earlier this year.
L-3 Communications' Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT) system is recognised by the US Department of Defense as a key tool to harness networking capabilities for aircraft and satellites.
But the US Congress moved to wipe out funding for the initiative two months ago - a move some industry observers believe was made to force the air force to make a long-term funding commitment to the programme.
Congress's threat prompted the air force to act, and service officials confirm lawmakers have restored NCCT funding for next year. In return, the air force is developing a strategy to bridge the technology from development to production as the US Navy and the UK prepare to join the programme next year.
Five live-fly demonstrations of the system have been scheduled during the air force's Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX), a biennial exercise to test new networking technologies.
In JEFX, NCCT software collects radar tracks and sensor data from a Northrop Grumman E-8 J-STARS surveillance aircraft, a Lockheed U-2, two Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joints and a Cessna 172 called Poobah's Pup acting as a surrogate unmanned sensor. A satellite also provides intelligence data for the NCCT system, but service and industry officials decline to specify the nature of the information.
The system is intended to respond to pop-up targets and time-sensitive threats. As a new threat emerges, the NCCT is intended to identify and fix the target's co-ordinates within minutes by automating the process of combining sensor data from a variety of surveillance aircraft.
In two JEFX simulation events, NCCT was credited with destroying six of the 13 time-sensitive targets on the first day, and 14 of 14 targets on the second day, says Lt Gen Bruce Carlson, JEFX commander.
Jacques Lorraine, director of business development for L-3, says the seven misses on the first day were not the NCCT system's fault. "The first-day scenario ran a threat that would typically cause our [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] assets to back off," he adds.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE / WASHINGTON DC
Source: Flight International