Air Force Security Forces personnel supporting Operation Enduring Freedom have been equipped with the latest in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology, the Force Protection Airborne Surveillance System. The system allows security forces to see beyond base perimeters and can provide a rapid visual assessment of detected threats. The Electronic Systems Center's Force Protection System Program Office recently completed delivery of the initial Force Protection Airborne Surveillance Systems to deployed security forces personnel supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
"Desert Hawk" is the miniature UAV at the heart of ESC's Force Protection Airborne Surveillance System. Flight missions can be pre-programmed and with the simple touch of a button on a laptop computer screen they can alter the flight to monitor a potential area of concern. One of the real strengths of FPASS is the ease at which the system can be reprogrammed in flight. In the long term our goal is to make this an interoperable system that will integrate into the Tactical Automated Security System suite of systems.
Air Force personnel from the FPASS program met with personnel from the Marine Corps UAV program office to discuss potential opportunities for collaboration. The Marines themselves were in the process of developing their own UAV system known as Dragon Eye. The Air Force and the Marine Corps had similar requirements for their UAV programs but there were very distinct differences in the operational environments. The FPASS system is primarily designed to operate within close proximity to a base while the Marine Corps requires a more ruggedized system that can operate under a variety of harsh environments. Areas in which the two services are looking to collaborate include the payload sensors, autopilot, and the systems software, components that account for half the costs of the system. The Air Force and the Marine Corps entered into a memorandum of agreement to share information about their UAV development.
The UAV dubbed "Desert Hawk" by Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, commander, 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces, is small in size, lightweight and very simple to operate. The airframe is manufactured from damage resistant molded material that is designed for limited field repair. Desert Hawk is able to operate from a 100-meter by 100-meter clearing without a runway. FPASS was specifically designed to be used by cops. It extends the range that security forces can monitor without putting troops into harms way. This system is not intended to replace troops. It is a critical surveillance tool that will protect and save lives by providing essential real time information on potential threats.
The portable unmanned aerial vehicle is an "eye in the sky," seeing all and transmitting real-time images back to its security-forces pilots who are responsible for the safety of aircraft taking off and landing at the air base. The Desert Hawk's main objective is to cover the surface-to-air missile "footprint." Desert Hawk's cameras chronicle every flight on a mini digital-tape recorder, even as the pilot, who can be about three miles away, watches real-time images on a laptop computer. The operator also has the option of taking computer "snapshots."
A two-man crew operates the system. To launch the UAV operators use a bungee cord catapult. The Desert Hawk can change route while airborne by using waypoints in the computer's software program. The plane can also use interchangeable payloads of color cameras and thermal imagers for day and night operations.
The system is powered by rechargeable batteries that have a one hour lifespan or if available can also be operated using commercial AC power. The UAV is designed to fly primarily at altitudes of 300 to 500 feet and sends back to the operators' real time overhead video data.
Part of the Air Force's force protection airborne surveillance system, Desert Hawk has a four-foot wingspan. Made of state-of-the-art composite material, constructed of mold-injected expanded polypropylene, it can fly for about an hour using its rechargeable batteries. It cruises 40 to 60 mph at altitudes up to 500 feet. Higher flying is not practical since that might put the seven-pound-plus UAV into the path of manned aircraft.
Each Desert Hawk kit comes with six airframes, a ground control station and remote video terminal. The squadron carries out multiple Desert Hawk missions every day, although only one of the airframes can be aloft at any time. Desert Hawk flies and sees equally well at night, since its video payload can be changed out. Options include white hot or black hot infrared, a low-light camera and three cameras suitable for daylight conditions.
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