Several combat-proven spy planes are being modified, upgraded and prepared for operational deployments in high threat environments beyond what was encountered in places like Afghanistan.
Army scientists, engineers, and program developers in a laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. have spent many years refining state of the art fixed wing surveillance technology, by upgrading its Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS) spy plane.
Much of the work, which initiated years ago at Aberdeen’s Joint Test and Integration Facility (JTIF), is aimed at engineering and integrating an EMARSS fuselage with cameras, sensors, software, antennas, intelligence databases, and electronic equipment so the Army could deliver aircraft to Afghanistan. Drawing upon these Afghanistan deployments, an Army Forward Operational Assessment team analyzed soldier feedback to upgrade the platform with new data links and command and control systems.
The goal with EMARSS aircraft included efforts to engineer a surveillance aircraft with a wide range of vital combat-relevant capabilities such as the ability to quickly gather, integrate and disseminate intelligence information of great value to warfighters in real time. It is built to do this with an integrated suite of cameras, sensors, communications and signals intelligence-gathering technologies, and a data-link with ground-based intelligence databases allowing it to organize and communicate information of great relevance to a Commander’s Area of Responsibility, Army engineers explained.
The work at the JTIF laboratory, involving a significant development and integration-related collaborative effort with Army and industry engineers, was aimed at reducing risk through rapid prototyping and software and sensor integration. The EMARSS fuselage in the laboratory was a built-to-specification model of a Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350.
A key aim of the effort is to upgrade and engineer an adjustable, modular aircraft designed with “open architecture” and a plug-and-play capability, allowing it to successfully integrate and function effectively with a variety of different sensor payloads, software packages and electronic equipment.
EMARSS’ plug-and-play, open architecture framework is engineered to accommodate radar imaging technologies in the future, such as Ground Moving Target Indicator, a radar imaging technology able to detect moving vehicles and Synthetic Aperture Radar, a radar system able to paint an image or picture of the ground showing terrain, elevation, and nearby structures.
Given that all the sensors, antennas, cameras, and electronics are designed to operate within a common architecture, one strategy has been to strategically disperse various sensor capabilities across a fleet of several EMARSS aircraft, thus maximizing the ability to gather and distribute relevant intelligence information, Army developers said.
For example, the EMARSS aircraft is configured to integrate a range of sensor packages such as Electro-Optical/Infrared cameras, MX-15 full-motion video cameras, and an imaging sensor known as the Wide Area Surveillance System, a technology able to identify and produce images spanning over a given area of terrain, explained Army acquisition officials.
More recent Army work on the aircraft has sought to build upon these adaptations with prototype upgrades on a new variant, called the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System—Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (EMARSS-V). The EMARSS-V incorporates a number of modifications including a more powerful engine, anti-jam navigational technologies and technical enhancements to improve the aircraft’s performance in high-hot conditions, according to an interesting essay in FlightGlobal.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Image: U.S. Army.