New technology may help protect Navy's reconnaissance aircraft
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — It’s not in planes yet, but new software for Navy reconnaissance aircraft could go a long way in helping how aircrews fight the war on terrorism.
New technology designed for the slow-moving EP-3E electronic surveillance planes can identify more potential hostile targets faster and with fewer crewmembers, initial tests have shown.
The new software, dubbed Story Maker, could soon be the standard on many surface ships and planes, such as the E-2C Hawkeye.
“It is an impressive system,” said Cmdr. Jim Baratta, Naval Air Systems Command’s deputy program manager for electronic warfare systems. “Again, it's in the developmental tests. I don’t want to overstate before it gets in the airplane, but initial testing has showed this is definitely on track to be a pretty significant capability increase for the EP-3.”
The four-engine, propeller-driven EP-3s are the Navy’s only land-based electronic warfare and reconnaissance aircraft. The planes cruise the skies detecting and tracking communication and radar signals so mission commanders can determine friendly and enemy forces.
During developmental test runs of Story Maker, the software outperformed a team of six crewmembers. The test team identified 16 targets with 75 percent accuracy compared to Story Maker’s 164 targets with greater than 98 percent accuracy, Baratta said.
How the system works is that it takes information from various on-board and off-board sensors and puts them all together to give a quick and accurate picture of the good guys, the bad guys and the targets considered “unknown.”
Crews of six or seven today gather the information manually.
Only one person needs to operate Story Maker, allowing crewmembers to focus more attention on identifying targets that are unknown, Baratta said. Plus, the new system only takes up one work station aboard the EP-3E, which typically carries a crew of 24 — seven officers and 17 enlisted crew.
Story Maker technology will help pave the way for the Navy's plan to replace the EP-3E plane with the Aerial Common Sensor, an intelligence-gathering aircraft with a crew of only six.
The technology has been in the works for the last 10 years and could be in planes as early as 2006. The Navy has invested $8 million in the project the last five years, according to Joan Holland, a spokeswoman for the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md.
The Navy has two squadrons that fly the fleet’s 12 EP-3E aircraft: Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Two, based in Rota, Spain; and Squadron One, based in Whidbey Island, Wash.