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Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft (MC2A)

The Air Force has examined replaceing its reconnaissance aircraft with the Multi-Mission Command and Control aircraft (MC2A). The Air Force's concept may likely limit the number of aircraft available for world-wide reconnaissance operations. MC2A is an aircraft that could support capabilities currently delivered by AWACS, Joint STARS, and the Airborne Command and Control Center. The concept behind MC2A is to provide the military with an aircraft capable of serving as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform fully interoperable with other aircraft and unmanned systems, such as the E-2C Hawkeye, Global Hawk, and Fire Scout, which perform similar missions.

The Air Force planned to pursue the Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft program, about 60 aircraft that would replace Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and Airborne Warning and Control System planes and other aircraft. The service may buy converted Boeing 767-400ER airliners and add the new capabilities in three stages: a next-generation air-to-ground radar by 2010, the air search radar and advanced battle management systems around 2015, and signals-intelligence equipment in 2020. It could cost the Air Force about $58 billion to develop, buy and support the MC2A, based on using the smaller, less expensive 767-200ER aircraft instead of the planned 767-400ER.

Initially plans called for the initial acquisition of one 767 airframe for development testing in FY2003, followed by four more production aircraft. This development phase would have run concurrently with MP-RTIP testing into 2009. The initial four production aircraft would begin phased airframe modification starting in FY 2007, following initial airworthiness flight testing of the test bed.

The Multi-sensor Command & Control Aircraft (MC2A) capabilities would be delivered through Evolutionary Acquisition using Spiral Development throughout the system's acquisition and sustainment phases. Spiral 1 would deliver a robust Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) capability and a focused Air Moving Target Indicator (AMTI) capability to support the Cruise Missile Defense (CMD) operations, along with BMC2 capabilities integrated on a Boeing 767-400ER platform to the warfighter by 2013.

The Air Force currently enjoys a command and control advantage on the battlefield thanks to its E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system aircraft and E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft. However, as future success increasingly depends upon an ability to rapidly engage fleeting or emerging targets and to counter the enemy's growing technological developments, the service is developing the next generation system -- the multi-sensor command and control aircraft -- to maintain its decisive advantage on the battlefield.

In September 2001 the House Intelligence Committee suggested development of a single manned reconnaissance fleet that is "owned" by an "executive agent" service, but co-operated by the Air Force and Navy. This would be a concept analogous to the electronic combat EA-6B model in service today, and would be a concept that allows for the best operational concepts from each of the services to be put into use. Further, a combined fleet of dedicated reconnaissance aircraft could be smaller in number than two separate fleets of dissimilar aircraft. The Committee's concept consists of the replacement of the RC-135 and EP-3 fleets with a single Boeing 767-sized aircraft fleet, with the first aircraft beginning delivery as early as 2012 and the continuing improvement and eventual ``cross-decking'' of the RC-135 collection system to the new reconnaissance aircraft

The next generation, manned reconnaissance aircraft would be based on the same type airframe that the Air Force chooses for its next tanker aircraft--likely the B-767 aircraft. The concept for the development and fielding of this new reconnaissance aircraft includes the necessary life extension modifications to keep the EP-3 fleet capable until the first new aircraft can begin replacing them on a one-for-one basis. Under this concept, the new would first replace the EP-3s, and then later the RC-135s. The study for concepts, numbers of aircraft, and the design and modification of the new aircraft should begin no later than calendar year 2004, with the first funding provided in the President's fiscal year 2004 budget request. The modification of the future aircraft will clearly require an acquisition process and organization that both understands the airborne reconnaissance mission and requirements, and has a proven record of delivering operational systems. The House Intelligence Committee believed the Air Force's Big Safari program office is the only logical choice for fielding the new reconnaissance aircraft.

The FY2002 House Defense Appropriations bill included funding to begin development of a Multi-Mission Command and Control Aircraft, which will operationalize the Common Widebody concept and streamline the fleet of command and control and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft.

On 24 October 2001 the House Appropriations Committee recommended spending a total of $454 million during FY2002 to begin purchasing, modification and development of Boeing 767 aircraft to be used by the US Air Force for several missions, including aerial refueling tankers. The committee added $354 million over the budget request for two new test aircraft and related research funds to accelerate the development of a potential JSTARS replacement platform as well as new multi-mission command and control aircraft. The panel endorsed the "common wide-body platform" concept, selecting the Boeing 767 airframe to begin replacing the Air Force's fleet of 100 KC-135E tankers over a decade, with the potential for replacing additional KC-135R tankers at a later date. The 767 platform will also be used for the JSTARS and other command and control mission aircraft.

With Boeing anticipating deferrals of aircraft orders due to the post-9/11 airline industry setbacks, the move would help maintain the Boeing 767 workforce, largely based in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. The Air Force will get timely replacement of aerial refueling tankers with a 767 tanker version, and at the same time this effort will add greater stability to the workload at Boeing.

The plan also called for engineering work needed to utilize the 767 platform for the Joint Stars (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) long-range air-to-ground surveillance aircraft and a multi-mission command and control aircraft - both currently using older 707 airframes.

One technical and operational challenge was performing simultaneous ground moving-target indication (GMTI) and air moving-target indication (AMTI) missions. The USAF wanted to field four operational MC2As by 2012 to start replacing the existing ground surveillance capabilities provided by E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.

An Air Force special operations analysis concluded in 2000 recommended the Boeing 767-200 to replace the EC-130E Commando Solo. The 767 is 60 percent longer and has more than twice the range of the EC-130E. But Congress currently is focusing on continued work on the EC-130J Commando Solo II.

The first flight for the MC2A-X, dubbed 'Paul Revere,' was a systems and communications check flight conducted at Hanscom AFB, Mass. by the Electronics Systems Center (ESC) on April 18, 2002, exactly 227 years to the day after Paul Revere first rode to warn of danger. Besides interphone, radio communications, and on-board systems, the first flight will also test the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL), the critical element to both send and receive data from other airborne and space sensors and the AOC.

The experimental testbed will be used as a "pathfinder" to determine hardware and software suites needed to execute a dynamic air war in a GSTF and Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) employment from the early stages through termination of hostilities across the spectrum of conflict.

Though the look of the battlefield and weapons has changed, the idea of obtaining and relaying critical information has not. In 1775 Paul Revere provided essential intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information by collecting and disseminating information to decision makers in the timeliest fashion for action. This process of gathering and disseminating timely information to decision makers continues to be paramount to success.

The service envisioned moving the air and ground surveillance, battle management, command and control and targeting capabilities of the AWACS and Joint STARS on to the same or separate Boeing 767 MC2A aircraft.

The Air Force Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center at Langley Air Force Base, Va., analyzed a variety of aircraft from different manufacturers before deciding upon one that met all desired requirements. They determined the only aircraft with the power, space, range and load-carrying capability to meet the requirements of the MC2A was Boeing's 767-400 extended-range aircraft.

Once the Air Force selected the aircraft that would become the MC2A, the service chose to take a spiral development approach in the acquisition of the airplane. The first increment, Spiral One, focuses on developing and fielding ground surveillance, targeting, C2 and battle management capability similar to Joint STARS. It also calls for the installation of a fiber-optic backbone to accommodate future growth and ease the integration of added capabilities into the aircraft. Spiral Two will focus on the integration of an AWACs-like air moving target indication capability on to the same or separate 767 MC2A aircraft, greatly enhancing battle management, surveillance, targeting and command and control capability. The Air Force has received $4.5 billion in funding for Spiral One.

As initially envisioned, the capabilities currently delivered by the AWACS, Joint STARS, Compass Call, Rivet Joint, U-2, and Airborne Command and Control Center will all be provided by the MC2A and a constellation of high- and low- altitude unmanned aerial vehicles. This, coupled with improvements in space-based systems, will result in a significant increase in warfighting capability. An active-emitter aircraft would combine the AWACS aerial watch mission with that of Joint-STARS' ground surveillance. A passive variant would meld Rivet Joint electronic intelligence gathering, Combat Sent electronic analysis and Cobra Ball long-range infrared sensing. A key sensor package is Northrop Grumman/Raytheon's new MP-RTIP high-resolution synthetic-aperture ground surveillance radar.

The October 2002 study, "Alternatives for Joint Multi-Mission Aircraft," identified four collaborative options for the Air Force and Navy to building a joint information-gathering aircraft:

  • A single aircraft: Judged most risky and costly, this option would cost $189 billion for 176 aircraft and likely take three to five years longer to field than the services' current plans.
  • A single aircraft without signals-gathering capability: The cost would reach $132 billion for about 144 planes, and the same problems with the first option still apply.
  • A joint SIGINT program: This 32-plane option would cost $23 billion, but would require the Air Force to commit to a common plane a decade earlier than expected. If the smaller 737-type plane is chosen, it may be risky to fit the Air Force Rivet Joint systems on board.
  • A common airframe: This plan would furnish 191 planes for $111 billion. This could force the Navy to buy a bigger plane than it needs for undersea and surface warfare because Air Force equipment won't fit aboard a plane smaller than the 767.

By late November 2002 the Air Force had dropped the goal of combining ground and air surveillance capabilities in a single MC2A platform, and instead planned to buy two fleets. The technological challenge of combining both systems on the same platform proved more difficult than expected. The two fleets of 767 aircraft would consist of one fleet with a GMTI [ground moving target indication] capability, and the other fleet of AMTI [air moving target indication] aircraft.

The FY 2003 budget request for the Defense Emergency Response Fund (DERF), Security, Communications, and Information Operations activity included $488.0 million for the multi-sensor command and control constellation (MC2C) program. This request included $150.0 million for the purchase of a Boeing 767-400ER testbed aircraft for the multi-sensor command and control aircraft (MC2A) and $100.0 million for integration engineering for that aircraft. The request also included $238.0 million to accelerate the initial sensor suite, known as the multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP), for the MC2A aircraft and for the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. The budget request also included $191.1 million in PE 27449F for the MC2C program, reflecting a total request of $679.1 million.

The House authorization bill would authorize the budget request. The Senate amendment would authorize a total of $429.1 million for the program. This decrease of $250.0 million was based on the belief that the Air Force did not have to budget for the testbed aircraft and its initial integration engineering in fiscal year 2003, since the MP-RTIP system would not be available to install in the aircraft until fiscal year 2007.

The defense authorization conferees agreed to authorize a decrease of $75.0 million for the aircraft purchase and a decrease of $35.0 million for the associated integration engineering activities. The Air Force informed the conferees that they have extended the schedule for manufacturing, integration engineering, and airworthiness flight testing for the MC2A testbed aircraft. The new estimate of the schedule would reduce the amount of time available to modify the aircraft to a configuration that would support installation of the MP-RTIP sensor. The revised schedule calls for delivery of the testbed aircraft late in the third quarter of fiscal year 2004 rather than the originally planned delivery early in the first quarter of fiscal year 2004.

The conferees agreed that, under the revised schedule, the Air Force may begin the purchase of the aircraft in fiscal year 2003, but should split the cost of the aircraft and integration engineering between fiscal years 2003 and 2004. Since the schedule for the aircraft has been delayed, the conferees determined that the Air Force did not require all of the funding originally requested for integration engineering tasks in fiscal year 2003. Therefore, the conferees agree to authorize a total of $569.1 million for the program, a total decrease of $110.0 million.

A $341 million budget cut the program suffered in the fiscal 2003 appropriations bill would delay the first MC2A delivery in 2012 by two years. Plans called for the initial acquisition of one 767 airframe for development testing - in FY2003 - followed by four more production aircraft. This development phase would run concurrently with MP-RTIP testing into 2009. The initial four production aircraft were to begin phased airframe modification starting in FY 2007, following initial airworthiness flight testing of the test bed.

The MC2A System Program Office evolved from the former Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program, or MP-RTIP, Office. This made sense because installation of the advanced MP-RTIP radar on the ultimate Boeing 767 platform will be the first "spiral" in the MC2A system's development. Teaming with Joint STARS is also logical, since the expertise in designing and modernizing a command and control platform with superior ground moving-target indicator, or GMTI capability, resides in that program office. Advanced GMTI capability is one of the first things the MC2A would be expected to provide.

Scaling back plans for a Boeing 767-400ER testbed absorbed the bulk of a $600 million budget cut proposed in early 2005 for the Northrop Grumman E-10A Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft (MC2A) program. The US Air Force E-10A's back-end processing suite - Northrop Grumman's battle management command and control (BMC2) system - also would be further streamlined under the budget cut. Under the new plan, USAF officials would decide on a common widebody platform for tankers and command and control aircraft after 2008.

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