By Ann Roosevelt

Northrop Grumman [NOC] said Monday it has successfully demonstrated the capabilities of a communications intelligence sensor package derived from its Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP) Product Line aboard the Army’s RC-12 Guardrail Aircraft.

Guardrail is a precision targeting, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform with more than three decades of successful worldwide operations, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Desert Storm.

The demonstration, successful on the first try, took place the week of Feb. 11 at the Lakehurst, N.J., test bed facility and was performed under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between Northrop Grumman and the Army.

Northrop Grumman met all objectives demonstrating basic Guardrail requirements and exceeded sensor system stability and performance expectations, company officials said.

“The CP200 first flight demonstration proved that we could take an 1,100-pound ASIP payload that flies on the U-2 today and scale it to a 150-pound version while maintaining high end performance out of that 150-pound package,” Mike O’Brien, Northrop Grumman airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance area director, said in a teleconference. The flight test showed the maturity of the technology, the capability and functionality of the hardware, and proved that ASIP was scalable.

“We have developed, built, and flown ASIP,” O’Brien said. “We’re now scaling ASIP and integrating it onto other platforms as those other platforms allow.”

ASIP was originally developed as the Air Force’s modern signals intelligence payload for deployment on the U-2 and Global Hawk platforms. Through internal research and development, Northrop Grumman created an ASIP Product Line that fully leverages the Air Force’s investment, eases the addition of modern signals and enhances the scalability (size, weight and power) of the sensor to satisfy signals intelligence requirements across multiple platforms, including the RC-12 Guardrail.

The successful test flights using the scaled ASIP CP 200 version mitigated program development risk and validated ASIP scalability in meeting Army signals intelligence needs, Imad Bitar, vice president of Northrop Grumman Mission Systems sector’s Electromagnetic Systems Laboratory business unit, said in a statement.

Guardrail is being significantly upgraded and enhanced under the Army’s Guardrail Modernization program to include, among other things, an ASIP Product Line payload. Guardrail Modernization will extend the fleet’s operational life beyond 2020 while expanding the system’s ability to exploit evolving threats and serving the Army’s signals intelligence needs.

In 2007, Northrop Grumman, prime contractor on the Army’s RC-12 Guardrail fleet, won a five-year, potential $462 million system integration contract to continue upgrading and improving the system (Defense Daily, Sept. 5). Right now, the initial fielding of four aircraft is expected in June 2010, O’Brien said.

The Northrop Grumman Guardrail Modernization team includes Lockheed Martin [LMT], which will provide precision geo-location of target emitters; Zeta Associates, which will supply integrated special signals processing capabilities; and L-3 Communications [LLL] providing air-to-ground communications data link technology.

Modernized Guardrail is to ensure warfighters continue to receive critical battlefield intelligence about current and emerging threats and to improve and deliver more rapidly precision targeting data.

The modernization effort comes after scrapping the Airborne Common Sensor program for the next generation airborne-intelligence platform due to a mismatch between payload and platform (Defense Daily, Aug. 4, 2004).

Additionally, O’Brien said the Army has announced the Guardrail Modernization payload would be directed as part of the Aerial Common Sensor program. Northrop Grumman is now working with the Army to develop a mechanism to make its sensor available to all ACS competitors.

The CRADA RC-12 flight tests were conducted with an ASIP Product Line payload scaled and optimized to address critical Guardrail mission needs. These flights demonstrated intercept and direction finding capabilities through the integration of an ASIP Product Line payload, a new Global Positioning System-enabled inertial navigation system and existing antenna arrays.

“The CRADA test flights demonstrate that the ASIP Product Line can be easily and effectively configured to meet new customer requirements,” O’Brien said.

“Flight test results provided solid evidence that transitioning technology from the ASIP program can be low-risk and cost-effective, resulting in products with high technology readiness levels.”

Clark Lewis, Northrop Grumman Guardrail Modernization program manager, said: “”Everyone else is talking about modularity and scalability, but we’re out there doing it.”