U.S. Military Focuses on ADS-B To Operate in Future Airspace

 - December 21, 2012, 12:30 PM
Airlifters like this Boeing C-17 operated by the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command will be prioritized to operate in the future airspace system. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

As with civil aviation operators, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) must ready its aircraft fleet to comply with fast-approaching mandates to operate in the future global airspace system. Failure to meet those requirements will prevent operators from being able to take advantage of preferential routes and altitudes that will be available to properly equipped aircraft.

DOD’s thought process in deciding which of its many aircraft to equip or retrofit is shaped by the guiding principles of global access, mission readiness and fuel efficiency, senior defense officials told AIN. Applying those principles, the types of aircraft DOD is prioritizing for equipage are airlifters and tankers operated by the Air Mobility Command, VIP aircraft flown by the Special Air Mission based at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and aircraft used for command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“The question that you have to ask yourself is, if I am going to require global access, whether it’s to train, to transit or to operate, which of those aircraft are most important to me? That leads you to the aircraft that use the en route structure the most,” said Steven Pennington, DOD director of bases, ranges and airspace.

The DOD fleet consists of 15,000 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft of numerous types and with many different missions across the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The department estimates that equipping those aircraft for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) Out, the capability of an aircraft to broadcast its GPS-derived position to the ground, would cost roughly $3 billion. In Europe, ADS-B Out will be required by 2015 for forward-fit aircraft and by December 2017 for retrofit applications. In the U.S., ADS-B Out is mandated by 2020.

Due to those impending deadlines, and the use of ADS-B for aircraft surveillance in Australia and Canada, DOD is focused on outfitting aircraft for ADS-B position reporting. Military ATC centers in the U.S. will also require ADS-B data feeds from the domestic ground-station infrastructure, which will be completed by next year. McGuire AFB in New Jersey and Nellis AFB in Nevada will be the first two facilities so equipped in the coming year.

But ADS-B is only one piece of the puzzle needed to operate in the future airspace system. Another priority for DOD is designing routes and equipping aircraft for “performance based” navigation on optimal flight paths. In that regard, the Air Mobility Command is working to incorporate constant-rate arrivals and departures at its bases over the next three years; among the first will be Charleston AFB in South Carolina and Travis AFB, Calif., defense officials said.