Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems has unveiled a self-contained sensor pod that can be fitted easily to helicopters and airlifters to convert them for a variety of airborne surveillance missions. At the core of the package, which Lockheed Martin has named Vigilance, is an adaptation of Northrop Grumman’s fighter-size APG-80/81 AESA radar series.
The sensor pod can be mounted on a hardpoint or a rigid frame and contains the radar antenna, processor and power supply, an IFF interrogator, GPS/INS, ESM sensors and its own cooling system. Two of them carried on either side of the platform can provide 360-degree coverage.
Up to four associated operator consoles are fitted inside the platform, running a tactical mission system that Lockheed Martin UK has already developed for the UK Royal Navy Merlin Mk2 helicopter. A system interface panel on the console connects to platform avionics, although Vigilance can be operated in an entirely self-contained mode. Thanks to the capability and flexibility of the fourth-generation active electronically scanned array (AESA), missions can include airborne early warning and control, anti-surface warfare, battlefield surveillance and search-and-rescue.
Lockheed Martin UK officials said that Vigilance is a company-funded initiative derived from a 2009-10 study of how the Merlin helicopter could be adapted to replace the Royal Navy’s aging Sea King airborne surveillance and control helicopters. The UK Ministry of Defence has yet to proceed with this requirement, but in the meantime Lockheed Martin has teamed with Northrop Grumman and developed a prototype Vigilance pod that has already been ground-tested at Northrop Grumman’s Baltimore facility. Flight tests will take place in the UK early next year on a helicopter.
The initiative is aimed at countries that prefer to adapt existing platforms, rather than make a heavy investment in dedicated assets. Lockheed Martin officials suggested fitting the pods to C-130 or CN-235 transports, as well as H-60, Merlin/AW101 or Mi-17 helicopters.