BAE Systems prepares for support challenges
With the Wedgetail, Echidna, Prism and the ALR-2002 Electronic Warfare programs all approaching service, BAE Systems is now preparing the suppot environment which will sustain them.
With several new EWSP product families due to enter service over the next two to three years, BAE Systems Australia has begun preparing an in-service support environment to sustain them through their lives of type.
The company began establishing its EW Integrated Development and Sustainment System (EWIDSS) at its Edinburgh Parks, SA, facility earlier this year. Currently manned by a small team of four or five engineers, it is expected to grow over the next four years to around 20 people whose job it will be to develop, test and verify EW system software and upgrades and implement technology insertions.
The company currently operates a number of software development and support laboratories for its various key products - ALR-2001, ALR-2002, Prism and the Wedgetail and Echidna EWSP suites. As these products or families enter operational service the company plans to migrate the various laboratories into EWIDSS to provide a single, consolidated centre of expertise in EW software development.
The EWIDSS will form part of a triumvirate with DSTO's adjacent EW and Radar Division and the Joint EW Operational Support Unit (JEWOSU) at RAAF Base Edinburgh. While DSTO has an experimental focus, JEWOSU is responsible for developing and testing operational capabilities such as threat libraries. The EWIDSS will focus on supporting and upgrading operating system software. BAE Systems is hoping Defence will also support the EWIDSS with a regular stream of funding as an investment in the sustainment of the ADF's EW capabilities.
The EWIDSS will start to come into its own quite soon. While Prism has been in service for several years and is already supported through the company's existing product support set-up, the first of the RAAF's new Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft, and the EWSP suite which BAE Systems has developed for it, is scheduled for delivery in less than 12 months.
The company has delivered two EWSP suites to Boeing for installation on the two aircraft currently undergoing flight test in Seattle. BAE Systems was still carrying out integration of the ALR-2001-derived ESM system at the time of writing, and was expecting to undertake acceptance testing of this in early-mid 2006. Integration of the rest of the EWSP suite is nearly complete, the company says, and acceptance testing will begin early in 2006.
The ESM and EWSP suite are treated as slightly separate items; they are integrated directly with the Wedgetail mission system but are also able to operate semi-independently in the event of a mission system failure.
There are a number of other Wedgetail sales campaigns either under way or likely to start in the foreseeable future. Turkey plans to acquire its own EWSP suite for the four Wedgetail aircraft it has ordered, but BAE Systems has re-bid into Boeing to support the American prime contractor's tender for the recently revived Korean AEW&C program. The company has also made an EWSP suite proposal to Boeing for the anticipated Italian purchase of Wedgetail but the Italians are still dealing with budget and operational requirements issues so the sale may be some time off.
The Prism ESM system has been evolving steadily since it was installed on the Fremantle-class patrol boats over 15 years ago. It equips the RAN's Huon-class mine hunters and will also equip its 14 Armidale-class patrol boats with first deliveries scheduled for the second quarter of 2006 and final deliveries a few months later. Prism now also equips the Customs Service's Southern Ocean patrol vessel, the Oceanic Viking, to enhance her passive surveillance capabilities.
Prism also has prospects in the Navy's LHD program, the company believes. Subject to sight of the combat system specification and Operational Concept Document for these ships, BAE Systems believes that the baseline combat systems already installed on the two contenders could be enhanced cost-effectively with Prism and Nulka.
The ALR-2001 ESM system seems ever-green - a derivative produced by BAE Systems and ELTA in Israel will equip the Wedgetail and the companies are currently awaiting a sole-source RFT to carry out a mid-life upgrade of the system installed on the AP-3C under Phase 8b of Project Air 5276. The company hopes to be in contract by the end of 2006.
BAE Systems presented a White Paper to the Maritime Patrol SPO at Edinburgh last year on maintaining the ALR-2001's capability out to the life of type of the Orion (currently 2015). The mid-life upgrade will likely be modelled on work the two partners did for the Wedgetail derivative and will see obsolescent components such as the host computer replaced with modern equipment.
The ALR-2002 Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) is the single biggest product development currently under way at BAE Systems. At the beginning of this year the company was awarded an initial production contract to build four systems which will be delivered during the second quarter of 2006.
It hopes to sign the full production contract by the end of 2005 and already has long-lead funding to help meet the ADF's schedule requirements. These are driven primarily by the Hornet - the production readiness review for the Hornet fit is scheduled for November 2007 with Initial Operating Capability scheduled for 2008.
The company is also doing a little software optimisation for the Hornet variant based on requirements derived from the RAAF's own flight trials of the ALR-2002.
The system will be acquired under two separate contracts, one for the Hornet and one for Echidna, but all systems (the number is classified) will be produced on a single line - the Echidna and Hornet variants are essentially identical, except for a couple of minor LRUs, a small portion of the operating software and the cockpit displays.
The Echidna EWSP suite for the Army's S-70A Black Hawk and CH-47D Chinook helicopters is also making progress. The company signed its $120 million contract in February 2005 and at the time of writing the Architecture Design Review process was under way, with the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for the Integrated EW Mission Support System (IEWMSS) complete, the PDR for the EW Suite Controller about to start and the Aircraft Integration Review scheduled for the first quarter of 2006.
The Echidna EWSP suite includes the Thales VICON counter-measures dispenser and EADS AAR-60 MILDS missile warner; the former also equips the Wedgetail while the latter equips the Army's Tiger and MRH90 helicopters and the RAAF's upgraded AP-3C Orion. Wedgetail also has the Northrop Grumman AAR-54 Nemesis DIRCM which also equips the Navy's Sea Hawks, so the ADF is achieving one of its aims from the Echidna program, namely greater commonality of EW hardware and software, albeit in a slightly more piece-meal fashion than originally intended.
The first aircraft to be modified under Project Echidna will be a Black Hawk in the first quarter of 2007, followed six months later by the first Chinook. BAE Systems will modify only the first article for T&E purposes; the production upgrade program will be carried out in Townsville by whichever company holds the Army's Depot-Level Maintenance contract there. Currently that company is BAE Systems, but the contract is up for renewal and re-tender in 2006.
After a lengthy period of R&D, Full-Scale Engineering Development and nail-biting on the part of BAE Systems (and Tenix, and the smaller EW companies which support them) the ADF is about to start fielding some significant EWSP capabilities produced or integrated principally within Australia. That's a significant achievement for Australia's still-fragile EW industry and the challenge now is for Defence to maintain a level of investment both in developing new capability and sustaining existing capability that is sufficient to sustain an industry base that is now a critical element of the ADF's operational capability and survivability.
By Gregor Ferguson, Adelaide