Marine exercise tests DARPA air support system

ARLINGTON, VA. During TALON REACH, a U.S. Marine Corps infantry/aviation training exercise involving Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One and the Marine Infantry Officer Course (IOC), DARPA tested the Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) system. The PCAS program enables sharing of real-time situational awareness and weapons systems data with almost any aircraft.

The exercise integrated automated, digital, and real-time coordination capability into a aircraft system that included rail-launched munitions, digital data links, and advanced software in support of ground forces. The ’ smart launcher electronics (SLE) device and all-digital architecture allowed the demonstration to take place in less than four months.

PCAS has two main components – PCAS-Air and PCAS-Ground. PCAS-Air is designed to enable plug-and-play hosting of tactical software on an aircraft. PCAS-Air is composed of weapons management, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and communications systems located on a SLE device. PCAS-Air communicates through PCAS-Ground with ground forces. PCAS-Ground is a compilation of situational awareness and mapping software on tablet computers. Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division (NAWC-WD) and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Rome Labs created two interoperable PCAS-Ground software applications.

During the exercise, an IOC joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) used a PCAS-Ground tablet identifying the target and communicated the position to the PCAS-Air module inside a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey via a digital link added to the MV-22 as part of the PCAS modifications. PCAS enabled the systems officer with the PCAS-Ground tablet and the JTAC to share real-time information allowing them to confirm and execute the order quickly.

Then in the exercise, the MV-22 Osprey fired a non-explosive Griffin missile to a simulated downed friendly pilot 4.5 miles. The missile, guided by a targeting laser, hit the target as directed. The time from initiation by JTAC to missile impact on the simulated target was over four minutes.

“The weaponized and networked MV-22 PCAS demonstration in support of a distributed company-size element was a very important and timely step in ensuring that our MAGTF has the long-endurance, long-range, flexible and precise CAS capabilities required to meet our Commandant’s intent when it comes to distributed operations at the company level, particularly in the urban littoral and in crisis response mission profiles that we’re already executing today,” says Brig. Gen. Julian D. Alford, assistant division commander of the Marine Corps’ 2nd Marine Division.

In another part of a simulated night ground exercise, a group of Marines had Kinetic Integrated Low-cost Software Integrated Tactical Combat Handheld (KILSWITCH) tablets, the PCAS-Ground system component, but limited situational awareness of friendly and enemy forces locations. Another group of Marines arrived with their KILSWITCH tablets and simultaneously launched a small unmanned air vehicle (UAV) into the air to provide ISR and network relay capabilities. The KILSWITCH tablets synced up with the UAV through the Marine’s tactical radios populating the locations of all friendly forces allowing the group to coordinate and accomplish their mission.

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