Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) Program Enters Phase 3

Raytheon Company has begun flight-testing the airborne component of DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support program (PCAS-Air), entering Phase 3 of the program, according to a company release. The program is designed to speed close air support to soldiers on the battlefield.

PCAS Phase 3 is an 18-month, $25.5 million effort scheduled to culminate in live-fire demonstrations. Raytheon is the systems integrator for PCAS and leads an industry team comprised of Rockwell Collins, General Electric, BAE Systems and 5-D Systems.

PCAS is being developed to enable ground troops, JTACs, and combat aircrews to share real-time situational awareness and weapons systems data. With PCAS, soldiers on the battlefield can quickly and positively identify multiple targets simultaneously. JTACs and aircrews will jointly select the best precision-guided weapons for each target while minimizing collateral damage and friendly fire.

“PCAS will help reduce close air support response times from as long as one hour to just six minutes,” said Tom Bussing, Raytheon vice president of Advanced Missile Systems. “By delivering critical information to decision makers more quickly, PCAS will save lives in the battlespace.”

JTACs

Staff Sgt. Derek (left), student, and Senior Master Sgt. Bryan (middle), instructor, Joint Terminal Attack Controller, 13th Air Support Operations Squadron, 3rd Air Support Operations Group, Advanced Instructors Course, call indirect fire from close air support as part of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School during a joint training mission with Soldiers of C Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, near Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. DOD photo by Sgt. Meghan Berry

Pilots, forward air controllers, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), or other troops on the ground calling in air support currently must focus on only one target at a time, usually using voice directions and possibly a common paper map, according to DARPA. An airstrike can take up to an hour to be arranged and have the aircraft arrive on station, during which time targets can move or even attack first.

PCAS is being developed to enable ground troops, JTACs, and combat aircrews to share real-time situational awareness and weapons systems data. With PCAS, soldiers on the battlefield can quickly and positively identify multiple targets simultaneously. JTACs and aircrews will jointly select the best precision-guided weapons for each target while minimizing collateral damage and friendly fire.

The PCAS-Air component “would be a platform-agnostic, plug-and-play system that would consist of an internal navigation system, weapons and engagement management systems, and high-speed data transfer systems. Based on tactical information, PCAS-Air’s automated algorithms would recommend optimal travel routes to the target, which weapon to use on arrival and how best to deploy it,” according to DARPA.

According to DARPA materials, key goals of PCAS include:

  • Reducing the time from calling in a strike to the weapon hitting the target by a factor of 10, from up to 60 minutes down to just 6 minutes
  • Direct coordination of airstrikes by a ground agent from manned or unmanned air vehicles
  • Improved speed and survivability of ground forces engaged with enemy forces
  • Use of smaller, more precise munitions against smaller and moving targets in degraded visual environments
  • Graceful degradation of services – if one piece of the system fails, warfighters would still retain CAS capability

From December 2012 through March 2013, DARPA field-tested parts of PCAS-Ground in Afghanistan, deploying some 500 Android tablets equipped with PCAS-Ground situational awareness software to units in the field. According to DARPA, PCAS-Ground replaced those units’ legacy paper maps, and dramatically improved their ability to quickly and safely coordinate airstrikes. The PCAS-Air component “would be a platform-agnostic, plug-and-play system that would consist of an internal navigation system, weapons and engagement management systems, and high-speed data transfer systems. Based on tactical information, PCAS-Air’s automated algorithms would recommend optimal travel routes to the target, which weapon to use on arrival and how best to deploy it,” according to DARPA.

Current flight testing will test PCAS-Air performance on an A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft and connectivity with a JTAC equipped with a PCAS-Ground kit, according to Raytheon. The key element of PCAS-Air is modular smart launcher electronics that can be easily ported over a variety of platforms across the services.

Once Phase 3 flight-testing is complete, the PCAS system will be available for integration and testing with other aircraft both fixed and rotary-wing.