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The Air Force’s fleet of E-8C aircraft will receive updated air-traffic management systems under a $103 M, three-year system design and development contract recently awarded by the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA, to Northrop Grumman Corp. The avionics of the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft are being upgraded to satisfy new international air-traffic management specifications governing access to airspace. Under the Communication Navigation Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) program, Northrop Grumman will install hardware and software that will allow the aircraft to operate in increasingly restrictive domestic and international airspace. “Initially, we will upgrade the E-8C test bed aircraft with the Rockwell Collins-made ‘Flight2’ (air-traffic management) system,” said Dave Nagy, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for joint STARS. This upgrade will replace existing analog equipment with large flat panel displays designed to enhance information presentation and increase pilot situational awareness. This will turn the Joint STARS flight deck into a modernized cockpit environment with cutting-edge 21st century technology, on par with the newest commercial aircraft being delivered today. The CNS/ATM system will be put through a rigorous certification process before being installed in the rest of the Air Force’s Joint STARS fleet. The upgrade allows the Joint STARS fleet to meet the new air-traffic environment requirements and provides a capability for dynamic routing or “free flight,” which allows aircraft operators to choose their own routes, speeds and altitudes in real time. Northrop Grumman will make the required modifications to the test bed aircraft at its Integrated Systems sector facility in Melbourne, FL. The operational aircraft, flown by the 116th Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, GA, will be upgraded under a subsequent contract. Northrop Grumman is scheduled to deliver the 17th and final E-8C next month.
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