Farnborough Air Show

LM’s flying intel lab helps to define defense needs

 - July 15, 2010, 2:37 AM

Most Farnborough exhibitors are here showing the fruits of years of laboratory work, but Lockheed Martin has brought the laboratory itself. The U.S. defense group has its Airborne Multi-intelligence Laboratory on static display–a specially reconfigured Gulfstream III business jet that can demonstrate its systems integration prowess, while also serving as a vital tool to help clients to define and develop complex requirements in areas such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

In its configuration here this week, the aircraft is fitted with communications and electronic surveillance equipment, plus electro-optical infrared. These systems are linked to Lockheed Martin’s Swift Lab, situated near Farnborough, which is serving as the ground station for demonstrations.

“We see the AML as a platform that customers can use to develop a concept or operations,” explained John Beck, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for strategic business development. “It’s also useful for early operator training because the customer doesn’t have to wait until the first article is delivered.”

The simulations that can be run through the lab, in combination with the ground station, can help military planners to identify the gaps or “pain points” in their war-fighting infrastructure. For example, Finland’s air force recently used the AML to make an early assessment of proposed missions for its planned new signal intelligence (Sigint) system, taking the opportunity to do risk mitigation. Lockheed Martin has since been awarded the Sigint contract by the Finns.

“The main difference in doing this type of work with the AML is the flexibility,” Beck told AIN. “The architecture [of the AML] and its physical structure mean that we can integrate any type of sensors and couple them with active radar, connecting via narrow- and broadband communications to a user, rapidly moving or adding various components. We didn’t build the AML in response to specific systems designs; we allow ourselves to plug and play different systems.”

Equipment and configurations of both hardware and software can be changed in a matter of a few hours, rather than days. This is particularly helpful when the AML is to be taken for assessment by a prospective client state that might be restricted in terms of U.S. defense export rules with regard to what technology it has access to.

Today’s battlespace is dominated by an increasing number of sensors as the military strives for more time-sensitive data, higher quality information and quicker dissemination of actionable intelligence. Fusing the data from various sensors is seen as a key driver to future development in the world of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR). Just as important is the need to evaluate processing techniques, and the means by which fused intelligence is distributed to the end-users.

Real-world Scenarios
While modern systems offer significant enhancements in the field of intelligence, development can take time. Lockheed Martin has spotted the need for platforms that can take so-called multi-intelligence capabilities into real-world exercises and scenarios, so that performance can be evaluated and operating concepts developed in a fraction of the time taken by traditional methods. Building on a fixed-site multi-intel laboratory, the company has also produced a transit case system and an instrumented Humvee vehicle. The new airborne lab is seen as the natural extension to this process.

Conversion of the Gulfstream III to AML configuration involved stripping out the cabin to fit four operator consoles and two seats for observers. The aircraft received its certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration last August.

Under the forward belly of the AML is a strongback attachment to which a radar sensor can be attached, housed in a detachable dielectric fairing. The flying laboratory is also fitted with signals intelligence-gathering equipment and an electro-optical/ infrared turret. A full suite of communications is installed, including tactical datalink and satellite communications. Onboard computer capability supports a variety of commercial operating systems.

The AML permits analysis and processing to be performed both on the aircraft and by ground stations. It also allows researchers to study the optimum ways in which disparate information from various sensor types can be correlated into single, actionable “nuggets” of useful knowledge.

Taking systems into exercises and live scenarios allows technicians to evaluate how these systems perform in the real world. The flying laboratory has already taken part in a number of trials, including the U.S. Army’s C4ISR On-the-Move exercise at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Also featured on the AML aircraft here (Outdoor Exhibit 8) is L3 connectivity equipment. Lockheed Martin has just signed a joint pursuit agreement with L-3 Communications West on possible new communications systems development.