Raytheon offers replacement for Predator control station

 - July 16, 2008, 7:39 AM

Raytheon is displaying here at Farnborough its universal control station (UCS) for UAVs. It is the first time the station is showing at an international venue.
The company claims that the UCS could dramatically reduce the accident rates of unmanned systems, as well as the cost to train operators. In particular, Raytheon wants to replace the ground stations provided by General Atomics for the control of the Predator and Reaper UAVs.

“We believe that we could save the U.S. Air Force $500 million over the next 10 years,” said Mark Bigham, business development manager for Raytheon’s Intelligence and Information Systems (IIS) business. He bases his calculation on the high loss rates experienced in the Predator/Reaper program. Although the drone’s overall accident rate per flying hour is very good, there has been a disproportionately high loss rate in training and during the takeoff and landing phases. The U.S. Air Force is believed to have written off over half of all the MQ-1/9 series UAVs that it has received. The UK Royal Air Force has already lost one of the three Reapers it began operating last year, and damaged another in a landing accident.

“The Predator ground station displays are like an engineering diagnostics station, with complicated menus and ‘M-keys’ with functions that are easily confused,” Katie Heilner, technical support engineer with Raytheon IIS, told Aviation International News. She is one of two former Predator operators that Raytheon hired to work with its own systems engineers to come up with a “cockpit” that revolutionizes operator awareness and efficiency, according to the company.

In designing the menus, displays and architectures of the UCS, Raytheon adapted elements of its own previous work on the Fire Scout UAV ground control station, and in a laptop-based multiple UAV control system. Air tracks are displayed via the multi-source correlative tracker, another Raytheon product.

Bigham said that the U.S. Air Force is seriously interested in the UCS. Raytheon has recently sold an associated product, the Predator operations center (POC), to the U.S. National Guard (ANG). This facility is an operations management system that provides tasking, weather and other collateral information to Predator ground stations. Six of them are being installed at the ANG units that have been selected to operate the MQ-1/9 series, starting with Fargo, North Dakota.

Bigham said that Raytheon offered to work with General Atomics as a subcontractor, in providing the UCS as part of a complete unmanned aircraft system. “They turned us down three times,” he added. General Atomics is now developing its own advanced cockpit GCS. The company told AIN that it would not comment on aircraft losses. “We leave that discussion to our customers,” it continued.