D-RAPCON award back on agenda

The US’s deployable air traffic control system programme is moving forward again after recent budgetary challenges.

The Deployable Radar Approach Control, or D-RAPCON, will provide worldwide expeditionary approach and en route surveillance for joint, coalition and civil aircraft to direct and monitor air missions through sequencing, separation of aircraft, navigation assistance and airspace control services.

“At the end of August of last year, we were ready to go, but after a $48 million congressional mark was made against the programme’s fiscal year 2012 engineering, manufacturing and development budget, we had to regroup,” said Capt. Charles O’Connor, programme manager with the US Electronic Systems Center.
The programme office, working in conjunction with the Air Force Flight Standards Agency (AFFSA), looked at where capabilities could be reduced while maintaining the original concept of operations. The AFFSA has listed D-RAPCON its number one priority for years.

“We are looking more to commercial-off-the-shelf, or COTS, type solutions and have reduced the pre-production units from two to one for cost savings,” said O’Connor. “We were able to maintain the key performance parameters.”

The system will be modular and scalable to be able to be used at forward operating locations, in the event of failed fixed-base systems or in the event of a natural disaster.

“D-RAPCON can also be deployed right after a disaster occurs,” said Col. Jimmie Schuman, Aerospace Management Systems senior material leader. “As we have seen recently with the earthquake in Haiti and previously with Hurricane Katrina, this humanitarian relief aspect will fill a critical need.”

The system will be composed of two subsystems – air surveillance radar and operations – each of which can be separately deployed. D-RAPCON will improve radar accuracy and reliability and be a significant improvement over the legacy systems that are being used today. Maintenance and sustainment issues have become a problem with the current systems as parts become harder to find and it becomes costlier to maintain the system.

“D-RAPCON will be a huge advancement for the user as it will be infinitely better than the legacy systems, which have been in the inventory for decades,” said O’Connor.

A draft request for proposal is currently out on FedBizOpps, with the final set to be released at the end of March. An industry day was held March 7 to highlight the adjustments between the previous system requirements document and the current one.

“We want to ensure everyone is aware of the changes that were made,” said O’Connor. “The industry day was very successful and we received a lot of good feedback.”

It will be a full and open competition and best value contract. It is anticipated that the engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) contract will be awarded in the first quarter of 2013 with a value of $50.5 million. The overall programme value is estimated at $672.5 million. The Air Force plans to buy 19 D-RAPCON systems.

Currently, full operational capability is scheduled for 2020, but, according to O’Connor, if the Air Force can and wants to accelerate, the programme is equipped to do so.

“In spite of the current fiscal environment, it’s imperative we get D-RAPCON out,” he said. “It will be a huge advancement for the user and we’re working hard to ensure they can get this improved capability.”

D-RAPCON: What Is It?

Referred to as the Deployable Radar Approach Control, or D-RAPCON, the system could be used at forward operating locations, however austere, for warfighting needs or contingency response. The system could also provide rapid back-up for failed military or even civil fixed-base systems, according to Programme Manager Diane McElligott of the Aerospace Management Systems Division.

The D-RAPCON system could be deployed very early in a conflict or right after a natural disaster occurs.

“We’re expecting minimal infrastructure to be there,” McElligott said. “The system will come with its own back-up power and the stand-alone equipment needed so that it can function in just about any situation.”

D-RAPCON is composed of two subsystems – air surveillance radar and operations – and the requirement is for each to be separately deployable, if necessary. This means that if the radar at a site becomes inoperable but the control tower is fine, or vice versa, the required D-RAPCON subsystem could be deployed to fill the need.

The system, once fielded, will replace aging systems that have become harder and far costlier to maintain. Most of those aging systems, including the old stalwart TPN-19s, have been in the inventory for four decades or more.

“Maintainers are having to machine parts themselves because they can no longer be ordered,” McElligott said. Because of this, while the TPN-19 systems will continue to be used, when a system becomes inoperable, it will no longer be repaired.

In addition to solving those maintenance headaches, the new system will significantly improve radar accuracy and reliability. While the legacy systems rely on analog technology, D-RAPCON will process radar signals digitally. It will also operate in both military and civilian radar bands.

The system will provide sequencing, separation of aircraft, navigation assistance and airspace control services, all with the modern accuracy and other state-of-the-art features, according to Col. Jimmie Schuman, senior materiel leader of the Aerospace Management Division.

The new system will also offer capabilities that exceed the main “interim solution” the U.S. military is currently using, a system called ATNAVICS. D-RAPCON’s radar will provide 60-mile lookout versus ATNAVICS’ 30 miles and accommodate more operators.

The goal is to field a system that is deployable within 48 hours and can be carried by up to four C-130 cargo haulers. Once fielded, the system can be set up in less than 24 hours. In contrast, it generally takes about three months to put up a fixed-based system.

The Air Force plans to buy 19 D-RAPCON systems, 10 of which will reside in the Air National Guard, seven at active-duty Air Force Space Command units, one for the service’s air traffic control school and another for depot maintenance activities.

McElligott estimates the total contract value to be more than $400 million, with over $300 million devoted to production and approximately $80 million earmarked for development.

D-RAPCON: The Contenders

Lockheed Martin  and ARINC have teamed to provide the U.S. Air Force with a D-RAPCON solution.

Their system will provide regional coverage and aircraft separation, similar to a typical civilian airport, on-demand through a transportable surveillance radar and air traffic control operations shelter.

Lockheed Martin will serve as the prime contractor and will provide a version of its field-proven TPS-79 tactical surveillance radar, as well as FAA-certified air traffic management software.

“As long-term leaders in the aviation industry, Lockheed Martin and ARINC specifically bring more than 50 years of tactical radar and air traffic control innovation to this project,” said Paul Goulette, director of Lockheed Martin air traffic control radar systems. “And every day across the globe, 60 per cent of the world’s commercial air traffic and more than 80 per cent of oceanic air space is monitored and controlled by Lockheed Martin air traffic control systems.”

ARINC will provide the transportable operations shelter. “ARINC’s strength is the delivery of robust communications solutions, underpinned by the right combination of people, processes and technology,” said Rivers Cleveland, director, ARINC C2 Systems & Services. “From the earliest air-ground networks to today’s deployable military systems, ARINC solutions have consistently advanced the safety and effectiveness of air traffic control.”

Raytheon is also in contention and highlighted its deployable air traffic management systems and solutions at the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) Annual Conference and Exposition last autumn.

Its D-RAPCON solution consists of two major subsystems: radar and operations. The system is transportable aboard all types of military transport aircraft and contains all the communications equipment, environmental control units and power units to be fully operational and controlling air traffic in a matter of hours.

“This is a game changer when it comes to safe, modern, deployable air traffic control,” said Mike Prout, vice president for Raytheon Network Centric Systems’ Security and Transportation Systems.

“With over 150 Raytheon ASR-11 digital airport surveillance radars and over 100 Standard Terminal Automation Replacement Systems (STARS) fielded, certified and in operation, we believe that this confirms that the Raytheon solution is the best choice for future U.S. Air Force deployable ATM.”

Raytheon said the radar and operations subsystems are already part of the Department of Defense inventory and are in operation at fixed site locations throughout the world. “As such, these systems have passed rigorous National Airspace System (NAS) testing and certifications, which will significantly lower both performance and schedule risk for the D-RAPCON programme,” it said.

Related Companies

Lockheed Martin Corporation
Raytheon Systems Company

Posted in Airspace, Contracts, Features, Military ATC, Navigation, Surveillance

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