Of 130 U.S. rotorcraft lost in combat zones to non-hostile reasons between 2002 and 2008 around half were attributed to DVE (degraded visual environments), CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) and wire/obstacle strikes. These losses accounted for 49 percent of the 189 fatalities. Such compelling figures underline the importance of the efforts being undertaken to tackle DVE issues and to enhance situational awareness to reduce CFIT and strikes.
BAE Systems is developing a system known as BLAST (brownout landing-aid system technology) that uses 94-GHz millimeter-wave technology to see objects through a range of DVE conditions, such as sand, dust, fog, rain and snow. Adapted from the MBDA seeker developed for the Brimstone missile, BLAST’s Sandstone seeker provides terrain and obstacle imagery into head-down, head-up and helmet-mounted displays. Displays have been adapted to use standard U.S. Army BOSS and the UK’s LVL symbology.
BLAST imagery can be fused with DTED (digital terrain elevation database) information to provide a dynamic synthetic display of the landing zone. Millimeter-wave imagery could also be fused with infrared imagery for even greater situational awareness enhancement, something that BAE Systems is working on. As well as generating landing zone imagery, BLAST can be used during en route transit, detecting and warning of obstacles and wires that are uncrated in the DTED database. Compared to other millimeter-wave DVE systems, BLAST offers the ability to be easily directed, so that it can look into turns.
BLAST and its Sandstone sensor was first tested at Yuma from a tower, before flying in 2009 in a Bell UH-1 Huey. During 2010 the system received maturity updates and was tested aboard a Sikorsky CH-53 of the Marine Corps. Further improvements were tested last year, and trials continue in 2012. An important feature of BLAST is its ability to track other helicopters, and a test has already been run with a second helicopter involved. Another capability that has been demonstrated is the ability to see people on the landing zone.
U.S. tests are continuing with a UH-60 Black Hawk, but BAE Systems is also gearing up for a demonstration/trials campaign for the French special forces. The sensor is to be mounted on a Puma helicopter with trials scheduled to begin either late this year or early in 2013.