The U.S. Army has fielded four of 14 planned RC-12X Guardrail signals intelligence (Sigint) aircraft with sensor packages from Northrop Grumman. Three more of the modified Beechcraft King Air turboprops will be delivered by early next year, with the balance by the first quarter of 2013, the company said.
Northrop Grumman was awarded a five-year contract in 2007 valued at up to $462 million for the Guardrail modernization program, which includes aircraft structural improvements by Hawker Beechcraft and new avionics installed by Stevens Aviation. The Guardrail contract, aimed at extending the life of the aircraft to 2025, followed the 2006 cancellation of the aerial common sensor program, a jet-powered surveillance platform that would have replaced the RC-12 and other systems.
The RC-12X Sigint system adapts airborne signal intelligence payload technology developed for U.S. Air Force U-2 and RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft. The system extends the frequency range and types of signals collected, captures and characterizes signals within a fraction of a second, and simultaneously processes different emitters and signal types, Northrop Grumman executives said earlier this month at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The company integrates the payload at its systems integration facility in Sacramento, Calif.
The Guardrail system uses airborne receivers controlled from the ground for the sigint mission, at times with two or three aircraft operating in concert to geolocate emitters. Executives said information from the RC-12X is processed by a new, standardized surveillance information processing center–or SIPC–one of which was deployed in September. They also suggested that the Guardrail concept of operations is evolving with the enhanced capabilities of the aircraft.
“We focused a lot on enhancing geolocation capabilities,” said Gary Leschuk, Northrop Grumman Intelligence Systems Division manager of advanced programs. “Guardrail has always been able to do multi-ship, precision geolocation using TDOA (time difference of arrival) techniques, but also it has worked historically as a single-ship collector and geolocator. The focus today in theater is really more on single-ship operations.”
Although there is no tasking from the military, executives said the RC-12X is capable of “multi-Int” operations with multiple sensors, a role envisioned for the Army’s King Air-based enhanced medium altitude reconnaissance and surveillance system (Emarss). While Boeing retained the Emarss contract after competing contractors lodged formal protests, the program is facing budget cuts in Congress.