In its first operational test with maritime operations, nine 47th Fighter Squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots are debuting new helmet and survival radio technologies during the Rim of the Pacific exercise at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, June 29 through Aug. 3.
One of the new technologies is the Scorpion system, which is integrated into the pilot’s current helmet, said Lt. Col. Tom McNurlin of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center in Tucson, Ariz.
According to McNurlin, the new helmet system takes all the information in the aircraft and positions it on the ground so that each pilot can look at a heads-up display and know exactly where the targets are positioned on the ground without ever losing visual contact of these targets.
“This system is three times as accurate (as what is currently fielded), full color and supports 512 lines of sight,” he added. “It is a huge safety improvement and situational improvement.”
McNurlin and two other pilots from the test center and one from the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., are overseeing the operations during RIMPAC, which is the first time the technology has been tested during a large-scale maritime operation.
The 47th Fighter Squadron was tasked with the testing of the system due to the fact that they were going to be involved in RIMPAC, and the system needed to be tested in a fully operational environment.
“This system has greatly enhanced situational awareness and the ability to target more dynamically and quickly,” said Lt. Col. Robin Sandifer, a pilot with the 47th Fighter Squadron, who has tested the system. “It is any effective way to positively identify a target on the ground or in the air.”
Prior to coming to the exercise, McNurlin and his team visited the 47th FS at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to familiarize the pilots and life support with the system, said TSgt. Arnold Davis, a technician with the 47th FS life support. The team spent a week working with the unit to learn the nuances of this helmet compared to the current one.
The changes seemed straight forward when it came to modifying the existing equipment, said Davis. The designers of the Scorpion system allowed their modifications to go with what is already installed on the helmet.
“We may just have to remove one of our brackets and add one of theirs,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy transition from the regular helmet to the Scorpion helmet.”
In addition to Scorpion, another technology was also tested during RIMPAC: the Lightweight Airborne Recovery System, known as LARS. According to McNurlin, the system is an advanced radio communication system that interfaces with the fielded Air Force search and rescue radios and is compatible with the current survival radio A-10 pilots carry.
“We hit a button, it interrogates the radio, responds to us and we know exactly where they are,” McNurlin explained on how the system works in aiding in search and rescue of downed pilots.
Both the Scorpion and LARS interface through the Suite 7B Operational Flight Program, which is the software that pulls it all together. The total system began development in 2010 and is scheduled to begin fielding in October of this year.
The installation of this system has been a requirement for the aircraft for some time, and this requirement will finally become a reality when the systems are installed across the Air Force’s fleet of A-10s within 12 to 18 months, said McNurlin. Once started, each installation will take approximately three weeks and will take place at the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
As for the testing at RIMPAC, it has been a great opportunity and success for the test center, said McNurlin. “The fusion between the test and the operational world has gone well.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to integrate into a large force exercise with this system to identify any issues before we go to the field.”
“I think it is an incredible new capability,” added Sandifer.
Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971.