Friday, March 18, 2011

JPALS Landing System Back on Track

The land-based Joint Precision Approach and Landing System is getting back on track after the deputy secretary of defense issued the Resource Management Directive-700 in January that restored full funding to the program.

JPALS is a family of systems that will provide precision approach and landing capability for all of the Department of Defense. It will operate in land-based fixed and tactical environments, sea-based environments and, eventually, a back-packable system will support special operation environments, officials said.

While the Navy is the lead executive service for the JPALS family of systems and working on the sea-based version, the Air Force is responsible for the LB JPALS that will provide this GPS-based approach and landing capabilities.

"Today, each service -- the Army, the Navy, the Air Force -- has one or more unique solutions," said Col. Jimmie Schuman, the Aerospace Management Division senior materiel leader. "JPALS is an interoperable system that will be used by all the services and civil aircraft."

The underlying technology is a differential GPS, the same technology Honeywell used for their civil product that was certified for use in September 2009 by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Program office officials are working toward procuring a military version of this technology, which will include employing an encrypted data link and GPS secure military code with anti-jam capability. Work is also being done to ensure interoperability with the civil community.

"Currently you have to install an (instrument landing system) for every runway end," said Brian Pierce, the aircraft integration lead for Jacobs Technology. "With JPALS, you would only need one system to support the entire airfield."

With this smaller footprint, LB JPALS would require less manpower to set up or maintain than current systems.

Other services currently use precision approach radar, but these systems are not compatible with civil aircraft and are planned to be among the first systems that will be phased out and replaced by JPALS.

Some remotely piloted vehicles also use the same GPS-based technology, and fielding JPALS would provide them the ability to land at any DOD airfield.

"We want to try to collaborate to get to as common a solution as possible across all services and across all aircraft within the Air Force, as well," Mr. Pierce said. "We want to meet everybody's needs."

LB JPALS capability would be installed in existing navigation system avionics. Avionics risk reduction efforts are ongoing across all the services, and there is an Aircraft Integration Working Group that meets quarterly to coordinate these efforts.

"We are looking forward to being able to do flight demonstrations with our prototype data link and civil capability military avionics toward the end of the calendar year," Mr. Pierce said. "The goal is to drive down integration costs by sharing the same basic technology across the services."

Collaboration with the FAA has also been in the works, leading to a possible interagency procurement of the FAA civil technology to provide the civil interoperable portion of the LB JPALS.

"Since the technology is so mature, our primary focus is managing our way through the various acquisition and milestone processes and collaborating with the FAA," said Sandy Frey, the deputy program manager.

Some recent successes the program has seen were technology readiness affirmation from the Director of Defense Research and Engineering and selection of a data link standard that will be the key to JPALS interoperability between all the services.

In the future, plans are for the LB JPALS to support not only straight-in approaches to the runway, but curved, segmented approaches, or specialized approaches.

"This will provide much more flexibility for the warfighter to react to their current situation," said Ben Brandt, the JPALS lead engineer at MITRE.

Program office officials are working on a draft acquisition strategy.

"We have been waiting a long time to get to this point, and we're ready to move along to the next steps," Ms. Frey said. "We want to ensure the goal of common solutions becomes a reality."

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