The Mexican military and security forces are fielding an integrated network of intelligence gathering, surveillance and response capabilities designed to bolster homeland security and combat narco-trafficking. The heart of the system – an Airborne Surveillance Intelligence and Observation (ASIO) system is unveiled and demonstrated today at Mexico’s Aerospace Exhibition FAMEX 2017 by the system developer, the Israeli company Bird Aerosystems.

ASIO was selected by the Mexicans as a manned, airborne intelligence gathering and surveillance system for homeland security, favored over an unmanned platform solution. The system includes surveillance kits installed on various aircraft and land vehicles, including several specially modified Cessna Citation business jets, Bell 407ASIO helicopters and response teams operating on the ground.

These special mission aircraft are part of a larger multi-layered security network designed to protect strategic assets, sites, and infrastructure across the country. Unlike slow and more complex unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) systems, the Citation jets are more efficient in covering large areas in different regions. These patrols can cover large areas from standoff range, as they conduct their patrols at altitudes of 30,000 ft., virtually hidden from detection from hostiles the ground.

The primary elements operated by the system are special-mission aircraft equipped with Bird’s ASIO customized sensor suite. The sensors are installed in a pod attached to the belly of specially modified Cessna Citation business jets that were converted by Bird into a special mission aircraft. The conversion also included installation of uprated engines, increasing fuel capacity for longer endurance and upgrading of some of the avionic instrumentation into a missionized glass cockpit, installation of antennae and the sensor pod. The cabin includes two workstations for the creation of an air- ground picture and mission control. The user interface system developed by Bird provides common control tools for radar (for the Mexican project, the customer selected Selex 5000 radar). A retractable electro-optical and communications and signals intelligence (COMINT/SIGINT) are also part of the suite. All are controlled from common workstations, enabling efficient and intuitive operation by a small team.

The ASIO solution can be installed on a wide range of aircraft and is a complete yet highly customizable airborne operational system that addresses diverse operational requirements. The Mexican solution uses a specially modified Cessna Citation business jet. Photo: Bird Aerosystems
The live demonstration at FAMEX will present a fully operational scenario in which all the operating teams share a unified overview and real-time situational awareness, significantly enhancing security of borders, strategic sites and infrastructure. Photo: Bird Aerosystems

The ASIO solution can be installed on a wide range of aircraft and is a complete yet highly customizable airborne operational system that addresses diverse operational requirements. Integrated with BIRD’s unique Mission Management System and using the latest surveillance and monitoring sensors. “By providing all team members with a unified situational awareness, BIRD’s new ASIO solution ensures that the entire team, from field commanders to decision makers, has an accurate and comprehensive situational overview as well as all the real-time information they need in order to make decisions.” Ronen Factor, Co-Chief Executive Officer, and Founder said.

The Bell 407ASIO helicopters are fitted with the special mission kits that includes EO payloads, C4I console and satellite communications terminal. Photo: Bird Aerosystems
Mexico has purchased the MDT Tiger protected vehicle to mobilize rapid reaction units as part of the nationwide homeland security force. Photo via MDT

The second element in the network is a fleet of ‘ASIO helicopters’ based on the Mexican Air Force’ Bell 407 GXP types, fitted with the special mission kits). These helicopters are fitted with EO payloads, C4I console and satellite communications terminal enabling the helicopter to seamlessly communicate throughout the mission using specially designed satellite communications (SATCOM) terminal (helicopters often support limited bandwidth due to interference caused by the rotor) limited with the network and ground intervention vehicles, all sharing a common network for coordinated operation. elements on the ground these aircraft are practically hidden from ground o remain hidden from borne sensor Suspected activities detected by these airborne sensor platforms are used to scramble air patrols of helicopters, carrying electro-optical payloads for evidence collection. They can also be weaponized to support ground operations. Finally, special intervention teams are also part of the system, dispatched to deal with specific events using MDT Tiger Armored Vehicles that are also fitted with a connected C4I console.

The Tiger armor protected vehicle from MDT. Photo: MDT