Ove Ronny Haraldsen
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At an altitude of thirty thousand feet, three E-3A aircraft are circling in overlapping flight movements over Central Europe. The radar on each of these aircraft covers an area of 312,000 square kilometres, which is the entire expanse of Germany. By using radar and a number of other sensors, each aircraft is able to track more than ten thousand objects simultaneously.
Inside the aircraft, the crew closely monitors the screens, on which all objects are presented as graphical figures. Among the hundreds of objects tracked, one makes an unexpected manoeuver. This is immediately detected by the Situation Control Computer Program (SCCP) from KONGSBERG, which submits a synchronised warning to all twelve operators on-board the aircraft. In order to allow for a rapid and accurate response, this information has to be made available to all operators at the same time. This places significant requirements on both system performance and architecture.
“Vast volumes of information have to be presented to the operators on-board an AWACS surveillance aircraft. KONGSBERG’s software presents this information in a format which allows the operators to maintain a full overview of an extremely complex image of the airspace. It was therefore essential to develop a system which was as user-friendly as possible,” explains senior engineer Tormod Faaberg, who took part in the development of the system between 1997 and 2005.
“The NATO base in Geilenkirchen in Germany provided the services of their entire crew and we have worked closely together with them to make the system logical and user-friendly. We created a user interface which still today is seen as highly modern by its users. When first introduced, the Situation Control Computer Program was one of the largest pieces of software to be developed in Norway,” adds Mr. Faaberg.
KONGSBERG won the contract to upgrade the user interface for AWACS, prevailing over tough competition from 17 other suppliers. Mr. Faaberg believes that there were several reasons why KONGSBERG won this contract. “KONGSBERG was awarded the contract because the company had already developed and implemented several different types of command and control systems. We had a well-established development process and could present a plan for how to develop the interface between humans and the machine, or HMI,” explains Mr. Faaberg.
“In recent years, the AWACS system has been utilised in operations over Afghanistan and in enforcing the UN resolution for a no-fly zone over Libya. During both these operations, the SCCP from KONGSBERG has proven to be user-friendly and intuitive,” confirms Lieutenant Colonel Roger Samuelsen, who acts as Tactical Director at the AWACS home base in Geilenkirchen, Germany.
“The most important function of the AWACS system was command and control for all air forces in the operational areas on behalf of the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) located in Poggio Renatico in Italy. Images of the airspace were transmitted via tactical data links to the CAOC in order to help them understand the situation. What’s more, images of the airspace and sea areas were exchanged with the vessels patrolling the coast of Libya. Without AWACS, we would not have been able to carry out these operations with efficiency,” claims Lieutenant Colonel Roger Samuelsen.
“Has the system played an important role for training new operators?”
“The system is very intuitive and if you have experience from other command and control systems, you will quickly gain the skills needed to work with the system.” “As a Norwegian yourself, how do you feel about the fact that AWACS makes use of the SCCP system developed in Norway?” “It confirms for me that although Norway is a small nation, it still has an extremely expert industrial group which can compete and win contracts on the international market. SCCP is the perfect example of how to succeed by focusing on userfriendliness when developing software,” he concludes.
Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) is a radar system for aircraft. It is utilised for monitoring, command and control of airspace. The system was developed by Boeing and is based on a radar from Westinghouse. It is fitted in modified Boeing 707 and 767 aircraft. AWACS is primarily utilised by the USA and NATO. However, the system can also be found in aircraft owned by Great Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Japan. NATO has AWACS fitted in 17 aircraft, all stationed in Geilenkirchen, Germany. AWACS is also used to monitor airspace during major sporting events and state visits in Europe and the USA.