'Smart' cable helps protect aircraft
by Lanorris Askew
78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
1/24/2006 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFPN) -- In December 2003 and January 2004, several Air Force aircraft took fire near Baghdad, Iraq, but the missile warning systems failed to indicate the attacks.
Air Force officials looked to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center to fix this problem.
An airlift defensive systems “tiger team” was formed to find a solution, said Col. Art Huber, the commander of the 542nd Electronic Warfare Sustainment Group.
The team of program offices from the Air Logistics Center and Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, came up with ideas ranging from fixing the old missile warning system to developing a new one.
The team developed the Smart Cable -- a device already documented with saving aircraft from missile attacks.
The unit says the cable is an upgrade to the current missile warning system. It has been installed on 400 coalition aircraft -- none of which have been hit by missile attacks.
"There have been documented instances of missile attacks on coalition aircraft that were unsuccessful and can be attributed to the effective operation of the Smart Cable," Colonel Huber said. "The Smart Cable was selected by Lt. Gen. (John) Baker as the one idea able to be fielded the fastest and with promise of being a best fix."
General Baker was vice commander of Air Mobility Command before retiring in July.
By March 2004, the team began designing, testing and producing the Smart Cable.
To get the best ideas in one room, a team was formed consisting of the 542nd and the aircraft system program offices affected, including those of the C-130 Hercules, C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III, C-141B Starlifter and MH-53 Pave Low helicopter.
The summer of 2004 was spent testing the prototype on aircraft. The 402nd Maintenance Wing also began preparations to produce it. The first cable was produced in August 2004.
"Our normal event is to form block cycle updates, which have a two-year time cycle, and to keep an eye on the hardware performance of our systems," said Larry Sheets, the supervisor of the optical infrared countermeasure systems office. "Building a piece of equipment in the electronic warfare world is a five-to-seven year process from conception to testing of a new line replaceable unit.
"We were approached with the question, 'What can you do in 90 days to 12 months and two years plus?' The fact that we were able to build a new piece of hardware and have it in production in five months was a tremendous effort," he said.
"We took some risks doing some things in parallel, but no steps were omitted," Colonel Huber said.
John Dorminey, the supervisor of the 330th Tactical Airlift Sustainment Group avionics engineering flight, agreed.
"This is a very nice example of how the (Air Logistics) Center can respond to a real-world problem and affecting how we support the warfighter," he said. "The 542nd Electronic Warfare Sustainment Group quickly built the device to resolve the problem and were very supportive of us in the aircraft groups to give us what we needed to make a decision to put it on the airplanes."
After entering the field, there were reports that the cable was performing as it should, but in February 2005 reliability issues began to show up. Another team analyzed the situation and discovered several aircraft had power supply problems with the Smart Cable. A fix has been developed and tested, and a field decision for the power supply issue is set to be made in several weeks.
(Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)
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