GTRI Team Tackles an Urgent Aircraft Defense Upgrade
When the U.S. Air Force found that one of its key combat aircraft needed more protection from an enemy missile threat, a multidisciplinary team from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) went into action.
The problem was a pressing one. The A-10 attack aircraft, an Air Force workhorse, needed important additions to its electronic warfare (EW) countermeasures systems.
"This was a rush program -- they needed it right away," said research engineer Melanie Hill, who was GTRI's lead engineer on the program. "We made it a priority across many different GTRI groups because of the broad requirements, which included electrical engineering, software development, systems engineering and mechanical engineering."
At issue was the ability of the A-10 to detect infrared signals from certain classes of enemy weapons. The A-10, an attack aircraft that often flies at lower altitudes to use its heavy guns and missiles against ground targets, could be vulnerable to those weapons.
The A-10 already carried extensive electronic warfare equipment, including the ALQ-213, a central controller that is the core of the airplane's electronic warfare systems. Essentially, it is the pilot's control center for threat protection.
The ALQ-213 takes information from the aircraft's individual EW systems -- which include a radar warning receiver and signal-jamming pods -- and processes that data in a coordinated manner. The controller also handles the dispensing of chaff and flares, which are countermeasures used to decoy hostile missiles.
The GTRI team's first task was to take an existing infrared-detection tool, the AAR-47 missile warning system, and determine whether it could do the job on the A-10. Then the team had to decide exactly how to add the AAR-47 to the A-10, and how to integrate the new missile-warning functions into the ALQ-213 controller.
The effort, called the A-10 Infrared Countermeasures (IRCM) Program, was on a tight schedule from the start, with 200 days to move from concept to flight test. The project was sponsored by the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base.
Engineers from across GTRI pulled together to meet the deadline. GTRI principal research scientist Charlie Carstensen used a pedestal-mounted A-10 located at an Air Force facility in Rome, N.Y., to establish that the AAR-47 was a viable option for the A-10.
With principal research engineer Mike Willis as program manager, principal research engineer Jeff Hallman led the AAR-47 research effort, and principal research engineer Byron Coker led the team developing the software that allowed the AAR-47 to communicate with the ALQ-213. A successful flight test kept the program on schedule.
GTRI's next task was to take the prototype equipment that had passed the flight test and use it to develop a standardized installation kit that included a complete package of technical drawings. The kit would then be used to perform hundreds of upgrades on U.S. A-10s worldwide.
Research associate Kim Wood was a leader in electrical/mechanical design and aircraft installation, and principal research engineer Rod Beard and electrical engineer Wallace Gustad were among the GTRI personnel who worked on the original prototype used for flight testing, as well as on development of the upgrade installation kits. Numerous other engineers, technologists and scientists worked on the program's mechanical engineering and drafting needs.
To help get the actual A-10 upgrade process under way, GTRI supported the manufacture of the initial production kits, and then turned the engineering over to the Air Force for continued production.
The upgrade is now active on the U.S. A-10 fleet worldwide.
In a separate but related project, a GTRI team that included Byron Coker, Mike Willis and Lee Montaña was successful in automating the functions of the ALQ-213 on the A-10 and the F-16 combat aircraft. Now pilots of those aircraft can put their entire EW suite on fully automatic operation, giving them greater freedom to concentrate on missions.
"I think the success of the IRCM program says something about GTRI's ability and readiness to focus a broad spectrum of expertise on a given need, even in a short timeframe," Hill said. "A lot of different disciplines in GTRI worked on this program, and they worked together in ways that were both timely and highly effective."
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Writer: Rick Robinson