Acquisitions help boost ISR business for Goodrich

 - November 12, 2009, 9:09 PM

Goodrich ISR Systems has been on the acquisition trail and some of the resulting technology is on display here at the Dubai Airshow (Stand W360). Best known for the DB-110 aerial sensor it has sold to six countries, the Goodrich unit is now marketing additional aerial sensors after buying Recon/Optical Inc. (ROI) last year. More recently, Goodrich ISR Systems bought Cloud Cap Technology, maker of stabilized gimbals for the small aerial cameras commonly found on UAVs.

During its long history, the U.S. based Recon/Optical supplied more than 3,000 airborne tactical reconnaissance cameras to U.S. and foreign air forces, and for more than 40 years it was owned by the Bourns Corp., a diversified family-owned business. According to ROI veteran Rich Zacaroli, Bourns was moving in a different strategic direction, which prompted the sale of ROI’s core business. “We have brought to Goodrich our strong capability in low-medium altitude aerial sensors and our newly developed focus on persistent surveillance,” he told AIN. Zacaroli is now general manager of Goodrich ISR Systems–Barrington (the former ROI headquarters, located in a suburb of Chicago).

ROI’s best-known recent products are the CA-260/261 high-resolution digital framing cameras and the CA-270/295 series, which added an infrared capability to make the sensors dual-band. It has sold about 90 of them to the U.S. Air Force (for F-16s), the U.S. Navy (for the SHAred Reconnaissance Pod [SHARP] on F-18s) and to export customers such as Denmark, Japan and Sweden (for the Gripen). These sensors use the electronic on-chip forward motion compensation focal plane array technology that was developed by ROI over the past two decades. The CA-270 accounts for most sales of dual-band cameras; it is optimized for operation up to 20,000 feet, whereas the CA-295 is a long-range oblique photography (LOROP) system optimized for operation at medium-high altitudes.

Meanwhile, Goodrich continues to market its DB-110, which is another dual-band LOROP sensor, but with longer focal lengths than the CA-295. The DB-110 is a smaller brother to the senior year electro-optical reconnaissance system (SYERS), developed by Goodrich for the U.S. Air Force U-2. It was first sold to the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) as the RAPTOR (ReconAissance Pod for the TORnado strike aircraft), and to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) for carriage by P-3s.

Repackaged into a smaller pod, the DB-110 has also been sold to four air forces for their F-16s. Greece, Morocco and Poland are confirmed customers, but Goodrich will not confirm reports that Pakistan is another. Here at Dubai, Goodrich is hoping for further interest from the air forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have each stated a requirement for a podded sensor to add to their fast jets.

Goodrich Barrington’s most recent development was the CA-247, designed for persistent, wide-area surveillance at night, thanks to a very large infrared focal plane array. It is part of the Angel Fire system that was sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps when it perceived a lack of 24/7 reconnaissance assets that could be dedicated for use by tactical commanders in Iraq. The gimbal-mounted sensor will be deployed in support of U.S. forces early next year on King Air A90 platforms. Contractors, including Barrington, will provide the operation and the systems support.

The Angel Fire sensor provides a much higher resolution, geo-rectified image with proper archival recall and with up to 13 times the area coverage compared with the video imagery typically provided by a UAV. This makes the task of change detection much easier–a valuable asset in the counter-IED effort, for instance.

Are the dedicated aerial sensors for combat jets offered by Goodrich/ROI and by competitors such as BAE Systems, El-Op and Thales being supplanted by the new-generation targeting pods? Much has been made of the “nontraditional ISR” (NTISR) capability of the ATFLIR, Litening and Sniper pods. Over Afghanistan, imagery is being downlinked from these pods to ROVER terminals so that ground troops can get a “pilot’s-eye view” of potential targets.

Goodrich and ROI officials told AIN that the NTISR can provide valuable tactical functions, including battle damage assessment, but it cannot substitute for the high-resolution, geo-referenced area coverage provided by the DB-110, CA-270 and so forth that can be integrated with imagery from other sensors and archived for recall by the wider intelligence community.

Visitors to the Goodrich stand here at Dubai can view the latest exploitation and dissemination systems provided by the company’s Malvern, UK facility. They have been heavily developed in recent years from the RAPTOR ground station originally sold to the RAF.

Zacaroli sees a promising future for Goodrich ISR Systems “in civilian and homeland security markets as our product becomes more accessible, particularly through Windows-based laptop applications.” He also expects to do more business on “smaller, lighter platforms.” To this end, another acquisition by Goodrich is playing a part. In 2006, it bought Sensors Unlimited Inc., a specialist in small, short-range infrared imaging cameras that can fit on mini-UAVs.