Airborne Reconnaissance Low (ARL)
The Airborne Reconnaissance Low (ARL) is an echelon above corps multi-function, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance asset developed and fielded by the US Army in support of an urgent requirement for a low profile intelligence aircraft. The ARL system is a medium range airborne reconnaissance and surveillance system with COMINT, airborne radio direction finding (ARDF), and electro-optic collection (IMINT) capabilities.
The ARL system was developed to accommodate diverse mission requirements through the implementation of an open architecture, modular, reconfigurable mission sensors. These systems can be operated separately or can be used to cue each other for examining targets using different sectors of the electromagnetic spectrum. The systems are controlled from four workstations within the aircraft by the mission analysts.
Initially, the COMINT/ARDF and IMINT capabilities were split between 2 separate systems, the ARL - IMINT (ARL-I) and ARL - COMINT (ARL-C). The decision was subsequently made to combine the 2 systems into a single configuration, ARL - Multifunction (ARL-M) The system was developed in response to a Commander in Chief, US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) requirement for a manned aviation platform that could provide an IMINT and SIGINT collection capability in SOUTHCOM. In May 1990, the Joint Chiefs of Staff validated the IMINT (codenamed Grisly Hunter) and ARDF Requirements. Grisly Hunter had been in development since 1986 and the statement of needs for the system had been revised in March 1990 prior to the JCT validation of the requirements. The ARDF statement of needs had been approved separately in April 1990. A competition had been held to select an aircraft platform for the Grisly system. The Dominion Skytrader 800 had been selected over the CASA 212, and given the designation UV-23. Before the system could be fielded, however, the US Congress mandated in November 1990 that the Grisly Hunter and ARDF components be combined into a single system, to be known as Airborne Reconnaissance Low (ARL).
The design requirements submitted stated that Airborne Reconnaissance Low (ARL) should support nation-building, counter-narcotics, and promote-democracy missions (subsequently classified as stability and support operations or operations other than war) in SOUTHCOM's area of responsibility. The ARL systems were initially deployed with US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in 1993 to assist in counterdrug surveillance operations and later deployed to Haiti in support of US peacekeeping operations. In 1996, an ARL system was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina to support NATO's Implementation Force (IFOR) peacekeeping force.
The first three ARL systems, one ARL-I and two ARL-C, were deployed to SOUTHCOM in 1993, only 2 years after California Microwave Incorporated (CMI) received the contract for the interim systems in 1991. These systems were deployed to the 470th Military Intelligence Battalion (Low Intensity) based at Howard Air Force Base in Panama.
So successful were these systems in meeting SOUTHCOM's requirements that the Army went onto request a more advanced version that combined the capabilities of the existing systems into a single system, ARL - Multifunction (ARL-M) by the end of 1993. The US Army subsequently exercised its contract option with CMI and procured 3 multifunction ARL-M systems. The US Army modified the contract in December 1995 to add a moving target indicator (MTI)/synthetic aperture radar (SAR) capability to the 3 ARL-M aircraft in production. CMI sub-contracted with Hughes Aircraft of Los Angeles, California, for 3 non-developmental item Hughes Integrated SAR (HISAR) radars.
The first ARL-M systems were delivered in September 1996. These 2 ARL-M systems (sometimes referred to as ARL-M1 and ARL-M2), with the addition of an moving target indicator (MTI) / synthetic aperture radar (SAR) were fielded to Korea, where they replaced the OV-1D Mohawk. A third ARL-M (ARL-M3) was also completed in FY97. In December 1996 the Army exercised its contract option again and procured 2 additional ARL-M systems with delivery scheduled in December 1998.
With Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DAR) support, the US Army investigated the incorporation of a wide band microwave Common Data Link (CDL) into the ARL to provide both a high capacity line-of-sight (LOS) and direct air to satellite data link to remote ground processing sites. This capability would provide significant operational payoff in ARL’s ability to perform split-based operations, interoperate with other CDL users such as Guardrail/Common Sensor and US Air Force Special platforms, and provide higher capacity real-time down-link for all ARL mission data. An initial demonstration of a CDL equipped ARL was conducted in 1 July 1997, at Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, Georgia.
In March 1998, Raytheon Systems Company announced the sale of 2 additional radar systems for the ARL-M program, bringing to 5 the total of Raytheon HISAR radars supporting the effort. The ARL-M system represented US domestic sales of the program known internationally as the HISAR. HISAR leveraged military technology pioneered by Raytheon' Sensors and Electronic Systems Segment to provide all-weather, day or night synthetic aperture radar coverage from the same family of radars used on U-2 spy plane and the B-2 Bomber. The system was capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground standoff imaging with 6-meter resolution and a moving target indicator facility, making it a versatile and affordable multi-role surveillance platform. At the core of this multimission system are the SAR and the DB-110 long-range optical sensors derived from the same family of sensors used on the U-2 spy plane, as well as forward looking infrared, signals intelligence sensors, and a variety of radios, datalinks, and ground stations. Another variant of the HISAR package was in flight test for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Global Hawk High Altitude Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. All interim capable systems were to be converted to the multiple mission capable ARL-M configuration.
Tragically, the single ARL-I (Airborne Reconnaissance Low-IMINT) aircraft and all 5 US crew members were lost in an accident in Colombia in July 1999. The fielding of the fourth ARL-M system (ARL-M4) aircraft in September 1999 partially offset the loss of the airframe. This aircraft contained upgraded electro-optic and infrared (EO/IR) imaging systems and a combination synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) with a moving target indicator (MTI). New equipment training on this latest system culminated in a Limited User Test in the December 1999-January 2000 time frame.
The ARL fleet was programmed to be upgraded with Joint Tactical Terminals (JTT) beginning in FY99. Addition of the JTT was expected to enhance ARL reporting and improve interoperability with other Department of Defense platforms by allowing the ARL to transmit and receive intelligence information via the TRIXS and TIBS networks.
In addition, efforts had begun in FY97 to adopt and integrate the Joint Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Avionics Family (JSAF) Low Band Subsystem (LBSS) being developed by the Joint Airborne SIGINT Program Office (JASPO) into the ARL-M. This upgrade was to provide a multi-thread, reconfigurable, wide band intercept and direction finding capability against next generation digital communications systems. Integration of the first development unit was expected to start in the first quarter of FY00 as of FY99. It was planned that a total of 6 ARL-M systems would receive the LBSS upgrades.
In April 2000, California Microwave Systems (CMS), a unit of Northrop Grumman Corporation's Electronic Sensors and Systems Sector, was awarded a $3 million contract by the US Army to modify 3 ARL-M systems with upgraded airborne sensors. Work was performed at the CMS aircraft modification and system integration facility located in Hagerstown. The systems were modified over a 6-month period beginning in April 2000. The Army rotated the aircraft through modification for installation and integration of the Wescam MX-20 forward looking infrared sensor and the wideband Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). This data link was the Army's newest and enabled real time transmission of synthetic aperture radar images from the ARL-M.
The MX-20 system was a state-of-the-art electro optic sensor with a laser range finder which greatly enhances the imagery collection and real-time dissemination capability of the unit. It provided operators in the air and at the ground terminals with imagery of targets five-to-10 miles away. The addition of a real-time wideband data link creates a unique multifunction capability. The MX-20 sensor upgrade standardized the Army's aircraft with other ARL-M systems available for worldwide deployment. The TCDL installation was a first for the ARL multifunction system. It provided a wideband data link for timely dissemination of intelligence products to ground stations.
In May 2001, California Microwave Systems (CMS) was awarded a $10 million increment as part of an estimated $27.4 million contract by the US Army to begin work on a sixth ARL-M system. The contract included aircraft purchase and modification, prime mission equipment, non-recurring engineering and integration and test. Work was performed in Belcamp and Hagerstown, Maryland, and was expected to be completed in 24 months.
Northrop Grumman of Belcamp, Maryland was awarded on 20 November 2001, an $8,933,993 modification to cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract DAAB07-01-C-L304 for material and services to procure and integrate a replacement ARL-M system. Aircraft modifications would be performed on a firm-fixed-price basis. All other efforts would be performed on a cost-plus-fixed-fee basis and would be funded with emergency supplemental funds. This action was required to replace the ARL-I system lost in 1999. Work would be performed in Belcamp, Maryland (15 percent), and Hagerstown, Maryland (85 percent), and completion was expected by 23 July 2003.
Seven ARL systems had been fielded as of early 2002. Two ARL-C systems and one ARL-M system were stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, where they primarily supported SOUTHCOM requirements. An addition 3 ARL-Ms provided support to US Pacific Command (PACOM) in Korea. One ARL-M (ARL-M5) was pending final system acceptance in early 2002, which had been expected in the first quarter of FY02 at Fort Bliss. Another ARL-M (ARL-M6) was in production to be fielded during the third quarter of FY03. Projected activities in FY02 included efforts to evaluate and select imagery sensors for ARL-M6, and fleet-wide upgrades for aircraft survivability equipment, over-the-horizon communications, SIGINT sensors, and IMINT sensors. This included integration of measurement and signatures intelligence sensor onto ARL-Ms, and demonstration of hyperspectral imagery applications and multi-INT data fusion capabilities.
In June 2002, California Microwave of Belcamp, Maryland won a $7.04 million contract from the Army for logistical contractor support services for the ARL-M aircraft program.
In July 2002, General Atomics sold to the US Army, through Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), 3 LYNX systems for installation on a US Army ARL systems. In addition, one LYNX, previously leased, but recently purchased, had been in use with the US Army since July 2000. Newly designated the AN/APY-8 by the US Military and based on leading-edge technology developed for General Atomics by Sandia National Laboratories, the 115-pound LYNX offered unequaled day/night, all-weather reconnaissance, surveillance, and target tracking for military, civil, and commercial customers. Operating in SAR mode, LYNX provided photographic-like images of up to 4-inch resolution. Depending on weather conditions and imaging resolution, the sensor could operate at a range of up to 85 kilometers. LYNX could produce 1-foot resolution imagery at standoff distances of up to 55 kilometers. At 4-inch resolution, the radar could image scenes 40 kilometers away in fair weather and 25 kilometers away (about 16 miles) even through clouds and rain. The radar could detect very small changes in a scene (including footprints) by using a technique called coherent change detection. In Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) mode, it could detect moving targets with up to 4-inch resolution. LYNX's CLAW system had a user-friendly interface similar to that of optical systems and was capable of cross-cueing multiple sensors with the same analysis tools as an electric light table-type program.
By early 2003, the ARL-C and ARL-M systems continued to operate in support of US operations around the world, including in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. No additional ARL-I systems had been acquired to replace the sole aircraft lost in 1999.
In October 2003, Product Manager Airborne Reconnaissance Low (PM ARL) sought sources and information for contractor logistics support of the Prime Mission Equipment (PME) associated with the ARL-M system. Contractor logistics support included all supplies, mission related consumable materials, and services necessary to maintain the system. The ARL PME consisted of all prime and subsystem electronics, to include, but not be limited to, Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), Moving Target Indicator (MTI) Radar, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Communications, and Communications Intelligence (COMINT ), Government Furnished Property (GFP) voice communications transceivers installed in the mission racks, GFP Remote Control Units (RCUs) installed in cockpit, interfaces to COMSEC/CCI, and mission antennas (including interfaces to PME antennas). Assistance would be provided to aircraft contractor logistics support maintainer with antenna replacement and repair.
US Army ARL-Ms with MTI/SAR capability and infrared and video sensors (IR/EO) patrolled the demilitarized zone in Korea well after their introduction in 1996. Tasked to monitor military and civilian movement along possible North Korean invasion routes, the systems provided both theater and tactical commanders with a vital intelligence source. When combined with intelligence data from other national and theater assets, including the Guardrail / Common Sensor (GR/CS), the ARL-M provided an indispensable contribution to the overall picture of the battle space. There were threats to the operation of the aircraft, however, and the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported in September 2011, that an ARL-M system operating in Korea had been forced to land after having its GPS jammed by the North Koreans.
By 2012, ARL systems continued to be fielded in support of SOUTHCOM and US Forces Korea, as well as in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The ARL upgrade program had been was completed and was expected to ensure ARL system relevancy and sustainability for the next 20 years. The ARL system had previously been one of the systems expected to be replaced by the joint US Army-US Navy Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) system. The ACS program, which was started in 2000, was cancelled in 2006. The ARL fleet was also on a common baseline to facilitate future enhancements.
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