Northrop Grumman demonstrates new communications system

Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Integrated Systems sector, working with the Air Force's Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint Stars) program office, has demonstrated a new way for airborne weapons systems to swap data with ground-based communications networks and other airborne platforms.

The original $5 billion Joint Stars contract for 17 aircraft was awarded to the company in 1985. The first 10 airplanes were delivered with militarized computers, but beginning with the 11th plane and retrofitting the initial 10, the Air Force allowed Northrop Grumman to use off-the-shelf technologies.

The new system uses Internet protocols to pass data among battle management platforms, target attack systems and other ground users. Known as Dial-up IP over Existing Radios, or Drier, it overcomes communications technology barriers that in the past have prevented standalone military systems form sharing information.

The company demonstrated the concept Oct. 24 using an Air Force E-8C Joint Stars test aircraft. Using IP-based communications, the aircraft was able to communicate and exchange imagery, text and data files to operators of ground-based systems.

The system was developed in part in response to a challenge issued during the summer by Maj. Gen. Craig Weston, the Air Force Electronic System Center's vice commander, for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) program offices to find ways to network ISR platforms together using Internet-based technologies.

"Joint Stars had two elements that allowed us to develop and demonstrate the Drier concept in just two months: a portal to the Internet and an ? open systems architecture," said Dave Nagy, Northrop Grumman's vice president for the program. "Collectively, the modifications required were minor, but the impact on warfighters' communications capabilities will be profound."

Using Drier, airborne and ground-based tactical users can select and download mission-critical data directly from the Joint Stars platform using narrowband line-of-sight or beyond-line-of-sight UHF communications links. Users also can serve as a relay point, providing critical information between aircraft entering and leaving mission orbits.

Based in Los Angeles, Northrop Grumman had 2002 revenue of $17.2 billion and was ranked No. 2 on the 2003 Washington Technology Top 100 list.

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