The Air Force’s Office of Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation demonstrated PNT technologies fused into an AgilePod during six successful Phase I sorties on an airborne test stand in Centennial, Colo. In April. It also successfully tested the setup on a T-38 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, ahead of Phase II flight tests scheduled for August. The centennial outings explored a concept of operations developed by Air Force Futures aiming to rethink the Services’ approach to PNT by adapting open software architectures to existing PNT technologies such as navigation by vision (VisNav), signals opportunity (SoOP) and magnetic anomaly navigation (MAGNAV). The outputs successfully demonstrated that a merged VisNav / SoOP system could operate in the reconfigurable AgilePod under a wide range of aircraft and environmental conditions.
According to Major Andy Cottle, DPS Operational Experiment Manager for Complementary-PNT, “PNT is not a new challenge for the Air Force, but we know that the unchallenged dominance of the Air Force. the air is not assured and we cannot be complacent, ”Cottle mentioned. “This concept recognizes that one alternative technology-PNT is not going to give us the advantage over our adversaries as they attempt to disrupt traditional GPS sources; we need to think differently about how to use these technologies together to achieve the desired effects.
The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) pod is made up of a series of 30-inch square compartments varying in length from 28 to 60 inches. Compartments can be assembled in different configurations, similar in design to Legos, allowing various sensor communication packages. Built to integrate with special operations aircraft such as the MQ-9 Reaper drone, it can also fly aboard manned aircraft.
Operators can choose the sensor equipment they need for a mission, configure the pod to meet their specific needs, and deploy to collect multiple types of data. For example, high-definition, electro-optical and infrared video sensors and radar can be deployed in a single AgilePod, eliminating the weight that might accompany multiple pieces of equipment to do the same thing.
The pod takes advantage of the Blue Guardian Open Adaptable Architecture construction and Sensor Open System architectures. Open architectures allow rapid integration of sensor technologies through standardized software and hardware interfaces that allow the pod to integrate seamlessly on platforms using standard architectures. This increases the number of missions the pod can increase, thus expanding the scope of ISR mission possibilities.
Current sensor capabilities on board aircraft are designed for specific mission tasks, such as close air support or targeting, using proprietary software and hardware. Open system architecture standards combined with a single AgilePod with plug-and-play capabilities and configurations allow a pod to perform hundreds of different sets of missions. This is essential for cost savings and increased durability.
In conjunction with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, the Air Force’s Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office (SDPE) has taken steps to make the new concept of precision operations, navigation and synchronization (PNT) of the air force a reality.
Cottle said the Centennial testing was only the first phase in a series of flight tests aimed at quickly exploring the operational utility of the concept, adding that during testing the team will also evaluate MAGNAV technology. for potential incorporation in future testing. He added that in another important step, the team successfully performed an AgilePod fit check on a T-38 to prepare for Phase II flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base. with the 586th Flight Test Squadron in August.
“That’s the point of experimentation,” said Rudy Klosterman, head of SDPE’s Experimentation and Prototyping division. “We bring together planners, scientists, engineers and operators to quickly explore – and for relatively low investment – competitive advantages, understand operational utility, develop CONOPS, and help the Air Force pivot as needed to ensure that the capabilities under development meet the changing demands of the battlefield.