U-2 Pioneers Open-mission Systems for U.S. Air Force

 - September 6, 2015, 5:15 PM
The U-2 that was equipped with Open Mission Systems takes off from Palmdale on a test flight. Seven new payloads were integrated in record time. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is planning more test flights of an open-mission system (OMS) that promises true “plug and play” functionality for airborne communications, electronic warfare and sensor systems. The platform for the flights is the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, which has already demonstrated machine-to-machine integration in two series of flights since November last year. Military and contractor personnel and veterans of the U-2 program are currently celebrating the 60th anniversary of the famous spyplane, which remains a key reconnaissance asset for the U.S., although the Pentagon is planning its retirement in 2019-20.  

The OMS standards have been developed by the U.S. Air Force, and “we’ve had numerous suppliers of sensors and EW systems anxious to prove their OMS credentials by partnering with us on the U-2 flight trials,” a Lockheed Martin program official told AIN. The trials are named Project Iguana, and they began with a five-month effort that included EW payloads from BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon; and the SYERS-2C multispectral sensor from UTC Aerospace Systems. Only the latter was previously slated for integration on the U-2. Communication systems were provided by L-3 Com (a ‘Gen3’ modem for line-of-sight and beyond transmission of ISR data). Honeywell designed dual-band apertures that were fitted to the U-2’s payload bay for the trials. Lockheed Martin provided the core open computing environment for the U-2, and Air Force OMS specialists provided a software application.

“The aircraft already had our open system architecture [OSA], which allowed it to swap designated ISR payloads. Then we wrapped this proprietary software with a translator that provided true OMS functionality,” the Lockheed Martin official said. By embracing OMS and re-using software, suppliers of airborne payloads can cut their development times by up to two-thirds, according to LM. Furthermore, “OMS beaks the lock between the sensor provider and the platform provider,” the LM official said.

In a second series of flights last June, a Sigint sensor from BAE Systems was added, plus communications systems from L-3 Com (the ‘Gen4’ Chameleon modem); Northrop Grumman (IFDL in-flight datalink modem); and ViaSat (Link 16 modem). This enabled the U-2 to act as a gateway passing data to and from an F-22, F-18s, troops on the ground using Rover sets, an ISR ground station and a combat mission control center, either directly or via satellite. The flights also demonstrated the dynamic retasking of a long-range air-to-surface (LRASM) missile that was already launched toward a target, based on updated ISR information. The trials were conducted from Palmdale, Calif., where LM performs depot maintenance on the U-2 and conducts flight tests.

AIN understands that next year, Lockheed Martin plans more U-2 flights to demonstrate OMS-compliant integration of more systems including the F-35’s multifunction advanced datalink (MADL), enabling exchange of data between fifth generation fighters and other fifth generation fighters as well as fourth generation versions; real-time geolocation data provided by F-22s and F-35s; and a cyber attack payload that has already flown in isolation on a U-2. The network could also involve the B-2, F-15 and MQ-9 Reaper UAV.  

LM officials note that the OMS trials prove that the U-2 can be an effective electronic warfare platform and a communications gateway, as well as an ISR collector. “When you perform well, the customer finds more things for you to do. Don’t be surprised if 2019 comes and goes, and we’re still flying,” said Orlando Carvalho, LM's executive v-p for aeronautics last week, during a visit to the U-2 depot.