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Northrop Grumman Demonstrates the Advanced Information Architecture
Northrop Grumman Corp. has successfully conducted the first communication between the US air Force's Global Hawk unmanned aerial reconnaissance system and a manned airborne battle management platform. The company-funded event demonstrated a new architecture concept called the Advanced Information Architecture (AIA), which would allow Global Hawk imagery and other mission-critical data to be rapidly disseminated in theater among battle managers, ground troops and other tactical users. Northrop Grumman used the AIA concept to share imagery among Global Hawk, a test bed E-8C Air Force Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS), and several ground users equipped with tactical man-pack radios and laptop computers. The historic imagery exchange, which occurred October 24th in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base, advances the company leadership in defining communications architectures that integrate the battle operations of manned and unmanned platforms. In July, the company demonstrated the ability of two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), a US Navy RQ-8A Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing tactical UAV and a US Army Hunter tactical UAV, to communicate and safely operate in the same air space at the same time. Northrop Grumman's AIA concept provides a faster, simpler alternative to the expensive, bandwidth-intensive process used in recent conflicts, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, to down load Global Hawk image data to US-based ground stations, analyze it, then push it back into the theater on demand. It will allow tactical users on the ground or in the air to select and download mission-critical data directly from a network of high capacity servers on Global Hawk and other in-theater platforms. Using narrow-band, "line-of-sight" air-to-air or air-to-ground UHF communications links, users could elect to receive just the data needed for a specific mission, thereby minimizing bandwidth requirements. If the queried platform did not have the requested data, its server would poll other servers in the network to obtain and deliver the data to the original requestor. The AIA concept would effectively extend a user's "line-of-sight" to the most geographically distant platform of the network. To demonstrate the concept, Northrop Grumman's test team developed and installed on Global Hawk a new 1.4 terabyte (1500 gigabyte) computer server capable of storing all of the imagery and sensor data recorded during a complete Global Hawk mission. Fifteen hundred gigabytes equal the storage capacity of approximately 50 desktop personal computers. The company also set up a secure, wireless local area network between Global Hawk and Joint STARS using hardware provided by Harris Corp., and installed client software that allowed tactical users with radios to query and receive information from Global Hawk. With Global Hawk orbiting in the skies 64,500 feet above Edwards Air Force Base and Joint STARS patrolling 100 miles away, battle managers on board Joint STARS queried and received Global Hawk images and navigational data from the UAV's most recent mission. The imagery was also relayed by a satellite communication link to Northrop Grumman's Crew Area Environment in Melbourne, FL, a 40-foot long, company funded mock-up of a Boeing 767-400R fuselage configured as an airborne battle management center. Following the exchange, ground users at Edwards Air Force Base and a Northrop Grumman facility in El Segundo, CA, used their tactical, line-of-sight UHF radios to query and receive recently recorded images directly from Global Hawk's server. A tactical radio integrated with Global Hawk's server enabled the proper "handshake" between Global Hawk and the ground users.