Paris Air Show

Paris 2011: Varied surveillance experience shows ATOS improving with age

 - June 20, 2011, 5:00 AM

Grifo 15, one of the four ATR 42MP aircraft operated by the Maritime Exploration Squadron of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza (GdF) customs police takes off from its home base at Pratica di Mare, east of Rome. As soon as the takeoff procedures are completed, the two crewmembers responsible for the radar and optronic sensors turn their seats toward the consoles and switch on the airborne tactical surveillance system (ATOS).

This is not a standard mission: most of the “crew” is made of international media, invited to mark the 10th anniversary of service by ATOS. Since the GdF became the launch customer back in December 1995, its developer–Selex Galileo–has produced more than 45 ATOS packages in different versions for nine customers, who between them use it on 10 different aircraft platforms. The flexibility required by the GdF as one of the design priorities has been a key feature of ATOS, allowing it to be operated on both the ATR 42 and the much smaller Piaggio P.166 DP-1, respectively, with two- and one-console configurations.

ATOS has been continuously updated to incorporate new technology, the latest version being that developed for Australia Cobham Aviation Services for civil maritime surveillance through its subsidiary Surveillance Australia. The package developed for Australia–where it bares the acronym SIM (Selex Galileo surveillance information management system) is installed on the Bombardier Dash 8 twin turboprop as well as on two different types of helicopter: the Eurocopter SA 350 and the Bell 412.

SIM features two major add-ons. The first is the availability of modern satellite communications systems that allow it to maintain near-real-time data communications with the aircraft and to have live voice and video capabilities. The second is the ability to store surveillance information of sufficient quality that it can be presented in a court of law during a prosecution. This requires a high-integrity mission record that protects data from unauthorized alteration.

There is also a third new feature: the ability to measure the performance of operations. With Surveillance Australia being a private company, its government client wanted to be able to monitor the performance being delivered in a contract that allowed for penalties in the event that agreed parameters are not achieved.

Between mid-2009 and mid-2010, the 10 systems, installed on the mix of fixed- and rotary-wing platforms, flew 2,600 missions totalling 17,000 flight hours with a mission reliability of about 98.5 percent (95 percent was the minimum benchmark under the contract). “In over one-and-a-half years, only four missions were aborted due to a problem with the ATOS, with the remaining [difficulties] being caused by aircraft problems,” a Cobham representative told AIN.

Back in Italy, the utilization rate of the Italian GdF ATR 42MPs reached a peak in 2008 with more than1,750 hours for the four ATR 42 MPs. The 2010 rate of some 1,520 hours will probably be equalled in 2011, since as of mid-May the service had already flown more than 700 hours.

After 10 years in service, Selex Galileo is now looking to introduce further enhancements to the system. For a new operational requirement to flying surveillance missions over land, new COMINT and ELINT intelligence-gathering capabilities are being developed. Also in the works is a version of ATOS that could fly on an unmanned platform in the medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) class.

“We aim to provide a platform-agnostic integrated mission system for MALE and above UAS, bringing together our experience from the ATOS and that in the sensor management field,” Selex Galileo CEO Fabrizio Giulianini told AIN.

The Italian company intends to exploit its British subsidiary to propose the system for the UK/F Scavenger requirement. “The basic elements for the system are available, and we plan to have a first prototype system in 2012 and a fully capable system two years later,” Giulianini added, explaining that the technological evolution will allow more of the preprocessing functions to be moved onto the aircraft, lowering the requirement for data links.

Selex Galileo currently is working on an Italian navy ATR 72 MP that will feature sensors for functions such as an AESA radar, an electro-optical high definition video system, ESM with ELINT, Link 11 and Link 16 data links, satellite communications for network-centric operations, improvements in information automatic processing and a dual GB LAN architecture that will allow the integration of additional sensor and capabilities for antisubmarine warfare.

The company has tapped the work done for the Italian navy in its bid for a naval version of the system in Australia, for which the selection is due to be made in a few months. ATOS has already been provisionally selected in India for the upgrade of its Kamov-28 helicopter fleet. The prime contractor for this program is Russian defense sales agency Rosoboronexport and final negotiations for this deal should start very soon.

The ATOS is certainly not the only airborne system in the Selex Galileo portfolio. The Grifo radar has been a story of success that has certainly not yet come to an end, although this fire-control radar has overcome the 180,000-flight hours target. Proposed with three different transmitters–80 W, 200 W and 500 W–more than 450 such X-band radar have been sold and new versions as well as new customers are part of the radar future.

Meanwhile, Selex Galileo is continuing to modernize and adapt its long-standing Grifo family of fire-control radars, with a contract for an undisclosed South American client being the latest success. For the U.S. Navy’s planned upgrade of its Northrop Grumman F-5 Aggressor aircraft, the Italian company is offering a package consisting of the Grifo-200 radar plus its HUD 100 head-up display, mission computer symbol generator, a radar altimeter, the SEER digital radar warning receiver and a smart multifunction display.

A prototype system was delivered to Northrop Grumman in November 2010 for a demo, and is awaiting it first flight. Other possible customers for the F-5 upgrade include Thailand and Mexico.

The Grifo already features on Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 Master light combat aircraft.

New capabilities for the Grifo that are in various stages of development include capabilities such as raid assessment, air-to-air inverted synthetic aperture radar, submetric resolution SAR, moving target indication via SAR and different modes to cover surveillance over either calm or rough seas.

For its Gabbiano radar, Selex Galileo is working on a new avionics computer that will be smaller and lighter (approximately 13 pounds), as well as consuming less power (around 50 W). The Gabbiano is being proposed for Embraer’s planned KC-390 military transport aircraft.

Leveraging on its work for Eurofighter’s passive infrared airborne tracking equipment (Pirate), Selex Galileo has developed a range of passive IR sensors. A system working in the three- to five-μm band to be integrated into the Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator’s smart integrated weapon bay has recently been delivered. Another new IR sensor is the Skyward G search and tracking system that also can operate in FLIR mode and that has been selected by Saab for the next generation of the Gripen fighter.

Finally, in the avionics field, Selex Galileo is working on a new aircraft management and mission computer that will have its first applications on AgustaWestland’s AW149 and AW169 helicopters. The smaller, lighter, open-architecture equipment is intended to make customization more straightforward; also, it has no need of ventilation for cooling.