Thursday, February 16, 2006

Programs to Watch: Arrowhead

I just posted a short video feature on the Lockheed Martin Arrowhead upgrade to the AH-64 Apache's TADS/PNVS over on eDefense Online.

Arrowhead is the US Army's Modernized Target Acquisition and Designation Sight and Pilot Night Vision Sensor system for the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The AN/ASQ-170 Target Acquisition Designation Sight (TADS) and the AN/AAQ-11 Pilot Night Vision Sensor, (PNVS); also developed by Lockheed Martin; are turrent-mounted assemblies on the nose of the helicopter providing direct view optics, television, forward looking infra-red (or FLIR) sensors; and a Litton laser rangefinder/target designator. The TADS and PNVS are in seperate turrets and can be independently controlled by the Apache pilot and co-pilot/gunner. Both crewmembers can access both subsystems.

The Arrowhead system employes a second-generation longwave FLIR operating in the 8-12 micron band. This is the same frequency as the existing TADS/PNVS sensors, and is considered desirable because it offers better performance than midwave FLIRs when dealing with battlefield obscurants, such as smoke. The Arrowhead system is reported to have twice the range and resolution of the first-generation system. The improvements are attributed to a second-generation FLIR array and advanced image processing software. Arrowhead is a digital system where the existing TADS/PNVS is analog.

Arrowhead entered production in December 2003 and the first unit was delivered to the US Army in May 2005. The Army intends to buy 704 Arrowhead systems to outfit its AH-64 Apache fleet by 2011. Arrowhead has also been selected by the British Army for its Westland WAH-64 Apache Longbows. Other export customers are expected.

For many years, the Longbow millimeter-wave weapon system and its attending radio-frequency intertefometer were touted as the "ultimate" configuration of the AH-64D Apache. But opportunities to engage armored or radiating targets at standoff ranges with radar-guided missiles have been in short supply, lately. Improved situational awareness in the war on terror is more likely to be gained from electro-optical systems than from radar. Also, the laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II), which marries a 70mm Hydra rocket with a semi-active laser seeker, is shaping up to be a key weapon for the Apache in the future, Teams led by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are competing for the US Army contract. The APKWS II will be much more effective with the improved target location and designation capabilities provided by Arrowhead.

US Army Aviation has been redefining combat-helicopter doctrine in light of ongoing operations. These revisions are spelled out in new Brigade Tactical Manuals that emphasize division reconnaissance and attack, close-combat attack, and urban warfare. New Apache doctrine and tactics stress "running fire" and "diving fire" over hovering engagements at low altitudes. This will place the Apache out of effective range of certain infantry weapons, such as small arms and RPGs, while also enabling better use of the helicopter’s TADS/PNVS sensors for greater situational awareness. The Arrowhead upgrade's role in improving the Apache's effectiveness in unconventional conflicts make it a program to watch.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

J-UCAS Program Restructured (translation: "funding eliminated")

The joint Air Force/Navy/DARPA program to develop a Joint-Unmanned Combat Aerial System was already on shaky ground -- or encountering turbulence, would be the better metaphor -- last year when about $40 million was cut from its funding. Now comes news that the the US Defense Department allocated zero funding for the program in 2007. The program director said at a conference in Washington just a couple of days after the new budget request had been released that he wasn't sure what the future of the program is, but that the DoD certainly wants to develop a long-range strike capability, and that the Navy seeks unmanned aerial vehicles that can takeoff and land from aircraft carriers, which is a capability that J-UCAS was not developing.

For more on the program's fate see "J-UCAS Canceled, But Not for Naught."