Singapore Air Show

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Offer Airborne Vigilance At Lower Cost

 - February 10, 2012, 12:10 AM
The Vigilance pod is fully self-contained, with its own cooling system. The APG-80 radar was first fitted to F-16 Block 60 fighters sold to the UAE Air Force. A UK Royal Navy Merlin helicopter (left) fitted with the prototype Vigilance pod is to make test flights shortly, as the pod has already completed ground testing.

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have teamed to offer a pod-mounted radar surveillance system that can easily be fitted to transport aircraft or medium-sized helicopters. The Vigilance system is being marketed as a viable alternative to expensive, role-dedicated airborne platforms. It also offers maritime and overland reconnaissance options, thanks to the versatility of modern AESA radar technology. The Vigilance system was unveiled at an airborne early warning conference in Malaysia recently.

The impetus for the collaboration was a pending UK requirement to replace aging Sea King airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) helicopters. Lockheed Martin UK Integrated Systems is proposing to adapt some of the Royal Navy’s EH-101 Merlin helicopters for this purpose. The company is already contracted to upgrade the mission systems of the UK Merlin fleet, which is used for maritime surveillance and attack.

The software and hardware (including operator consoles) from this upgrade project form a key part of the Vigilance proposal. They process and display the data from the radar and other sensors mounted in self-contained pods that have their own environmental control system and anti-vibration mountings.

The radar is a minimal adaptation of Northrop Grumman’s fighter-size APG-80/81 series. A gimbal will be added to provide a 180-degree field of view. Two pods fitted either side of a Merlin, H-60 or similar-size helicopter would provide hemispheric coverage. On a C-130, the pods would be mounted under the outer wings. The CN-235 is another potential fixed-wing platform. Up to four roll-on, roll-off consoles can be included.

“This is a modular and scaleable multi-role fit solution that incorporates leading-edge technology at a low cost of ownership,” said Neil Morphett, manager of systems solutions for Lockheed Martin UK. He said a prototype pod has been developed with company funds and will be test-flown in the UK shortly. It has already been ground-tested at Northrop Grumman’s Baltimore facility in the U.S., where it tracked airliners approaching the adjacent BWI airport. The pod weighs just over 600 pounds and requires 25 kW of power.

Morphett said the Vigilance system can import the host aircraft’s navigation and communications systems, although this is not a prerequisite. Lockheed Martin UK has designed an easy-interface panel that fits on the side of the display console and offers multiple connections to the aircraft.

Because the mission system backbone is Ethernet-based, the outputs can be datalinked to the ground via multiplex and time-sharing on the aircraft’s existing antennas. Lockheed Martin claims that the Windows-based software displays are very flexible and adaptable, and easy for operators to learn and maintain.