U.S. Army AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters will soon be equipped with a Ground Fire Acquisition System (GFAS) to automatically detect, and identify the sources of ground fire shot at the helicopters. GFAS consists of a combination of infrared cameras and processing system known as ‘Weapon Watch” that detect, locate and point other systems (or weapons) to source of ground fire that could put the helicopter in danger. The system also detects enemy fire on the ground, assisting supported forces on the ground. The infrared camera are packed into external pods attached to the helicopters’ stub wings. These sensors are designed to detect the muzzle flashes from the ground, allowing Apache pilots to get their sensors on potential targets and immediately know the location, and distance of ground fire. The system was developed by Radiance Technologies, Inc. and is being integrated with the Apache Longbow under a recently awarded $7 million U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technologies Directorate (AATD) contract.
WeaponWatch uses a common weapon detection and response technology developed under the Overwatch Advanced Concept and Technical Demonstration (ACTD), to provide a complete solution that detects, locates, classifies and responds to fired weapons from fixed and rotary wing aircraft, UAVs, ground vehicles, towers or dismounted mounts. The system employs a Long Wave Infra-Red (LWIR) Imaging Sensor to spot the threat. the system’s ultra-fast processor recognizes and analyzes the threats in real-time, analyzing the heat signatures generated by fired weapons, identifying the type of weapon by referencing a comprehensive database of weapon fire signature algorithms. The rapid processing enables the WeaponWatch system to respond to enemy weapon fire by alerting the crew, communicating the type and location of the weapon, or cueing remotely operated weapons even before the sound of the enemy weapon reaches the sensor. The system is already deployed on observation towers (RAID) integrated with existing base-protection systems.
According to Radiance Technologies, the electro-optical sensor offers several advantages over similar, acoustic weapon detection systems, particularly in detecting weapons fired in any direction, in urban environments, while the sensor is “on-the-move,” and at long range.
In spring 2011 the first GFAS systems will be allocated to 1-101 Aviation Brigade at Ft. Campbell Ky Early User Evaluation. Before this phase the system has undergone a range of key tests at places such as Mesa Ariz., and Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. According to Lt. Col. Jeff Johnson, product manager, Longbow Apache. Pending successful outcome of the User Evaluation, the Apache Program Manager will look at expanding GFAS’ capabilities, including integrating the technology with Blue Force Tracker display screens.
GFAS automatically process the detected signals and localizes the sources of fire, feeding the information through the helicopter’s defensive avionics gateway system to display on the pilot’s standard threat warning display. “The beauty of this system is that we are not changing the aircraft software. We are not adding displays. It’s integrated through an Aircraft Gateway Processor” Johnson said. Upon receiving the information about the ground fire on their display screens, the aircraft crew can move their Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensors, or MTADS/PNVS, onto the target at the touch of a button. “The crew sees the point of origin where the muzzle flash was detected,” he said. “It is not just about the aircraft, but about getting information to guys on the ground who are in the fight. Apache has led the way for other platforms with net-centric operations and situational awareness.”
“Crews often return from missions in Afghanistan with small-arms damage to the aircraft,” Johnson explained. “GFAS is an offensive targeting system. It is not a piece of aircraft survivability equipment. It helps us fulfill our mission of closing with and destroying the enemy.”