Persistent Close Air Support
|Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS)|
Program utilizes the A-10 as a demonstration platform.
|Type||Close Air Support|
|Place of origin||United States|
Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) is a DARPA program that seeks to demonstrate dramatic capability improvements in close air support (CAS) capabilities by developing a system to allow continuous CAS availability and lethality to Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs).
PCAS was to demonstrate using an A-10 Thunderbolt II modified for optionally manned operation, however the program did not seek to remove pilots from the cockpit of A-10s or other manned military aircraft. Technologies developed under the program were to transition to both current manned aircraft and the MQ-X next-generation unmanned aircraft. With the cancellation of the MQ-X program, the PCAS program dropped the idea of using an optionally manned A-10, and refocused the effort to allow the JTAC controller to interface with "smart rail" electronics on a manned A-10.
Currently pilots, forward air controllers, and JTACs must focus on one target at a time and rely on voice directions and paper maps to call in air support. This can take up to one hour to be arranged and have an aircraft arrive on station, which allows a target to relocate or attack first. PCAS is to digitally link aircraft with ground controllers to share real-time situational awareness, identify multiple targets simultaneously, jointly select the best precision-guided weapons for the situation, and reduce engagement time to as little as six minutes. Pilots and JTACs will have digital messaging capabilities networked through software programmable radio, which wirelessly transmits IP packets of voice, video, and data. By using Android tablets on the ground and in an aircraft's cockpit they can both view and exchange targeting information using icons, digital maps, and display screens; a JTAC can view a pilot's targeting pod picture in the air and permits a pilot to view target-grid coordinates and other displays from a JTAC's tablet on the ground. Using smart launcher electronics, consisting of a GPS/INS unit, weapons and engagement management systems, high-speed data transfer systems, software and radios, and an Ethernet switch, it integrates software programmable radio with a processor and tablet in the cockpit. Autonomous decision aids also use algorithms to recommend which weapon might be best suited to attack a given target.
The first PCAS phase involved identifying relevant technologies, demonstrating concepts, and developing target-identification systems. The second phase was finalizing the system's design and ground system and clearing it for installation on multiple aircraft. DARPA field-tested parts of PCAS-Ground in Afghanistan from December 2012 to March 2013, deploying some 500 Android tablets equipped with PCAS-Ground situational awareness software, which dramatically improved units' ability to quickly and safely coordinate airstrikes. Raytheon won the $25 million, 18-month Phase 3 contract in February 2014 and began flight tests that October; the entire three-year program is funded at $82 million. Once flight testing of PCAS-Air's modular smart launcher electronics is completed on an A-10 and shown it can connect with a PCAS-Ground kit, the platform-agnostic PCAS system will be available for integration and testing with other fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. Live-fire tests are planned for February 2015, and the system could be ready for operational use by May 2015.
- "Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS)". DARPA. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
- "Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) Proposer's Day Workshop Announcement". Federal Business Opportunities. August 2, 2010. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
- Scott Fontaine (August 1, 2010). "Air support could come from unmanned A-10s". AirForceTimes. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
- Graham Warwick (August 4, 2010). "Closing the Loop on Close Air Support". Aviation Week. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
- Darpa Refocuses Precision Close Air Support Effort On Manned Aircraft - Aviationweek.com, 10 September 2013
- Raytheon launches flight tests of persistent close air support - Flightglobal.com, 6 November 2014
- DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) Program Enters Phase 3 - Defensemedianetwork.com, 6 November 2014
- DARPA Tests New Close Air Support Technology - Defensetech.org, 10 November 2014
- Darpa Plots Death From Above, On-Demand - Wired, July 12, 2010.
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