May 2021 | Content by Lt Col Dennis “Murph” Murphy, FLEP Software IPT Lead

FLEP to Upgrade AWACS Mission System Software

A crew of international specialists work on mission system consoles inside a NATO E-3A aircraft.
© 2020 - NATO E-3A Component

Exciting changes are on the way in the form of a modern mission system software upgrade coming to the NATO E-3A fleet as part of the one-billion-dollar Final Lifetime Extension Programme (FLEP) managed by NAPMA. This software upgrade leverages the current NATO Mid-Term (NMT) software providing a near seamless transition for operational crews while optimizing system performance and maximizing the benefit of new high speed computer hardware and larger high-definition operator workstation displays – or “scopes” for you old timers out there. FLEP will also include the development of new Ground Systems (GS), to include a Mission Planning/Debrief System (MPDS) and Deployable Mission Planning/Debrief System (DMPDS) suite of software tools to accompany the GS hardware. These upgrades comprise a significant chunk of the overall FLEP effort and, from a crew dog’s perspective, will be the most visible upgrade to the NE-3A mission system.

In order to deliver the best capability to NATO AWACS operators, the NAPMA has, once again, hired some of the world’s premier defense contractors from across the alliance to develop this new software. Led by Boeing (USA) as the prime integrator, the industry partners developing software for FLEP include Airbus from Germany, Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace (KDA) from Norway, and Indra from Spain. Each contractor plays a critical role in producing a key element of FLEP mission system software.

Airbus is developing the Multi-Sensor Integration Computer Program (MSICP) which performs tracking, correlation, and identification services on the AWACS system. In addition to radar and Link-16 data, the FLEP MSICP will handle inputs from Electronic Support Measures (ESM), Automatic Identification System (AIS), Joint Range Extension Application Protocol (JREAP-C) , and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) information imported from other ground surveillance platforms like NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) aircraft. These capabilities promise to enable operators to better execute battle management functions in a multi-domain environment under the most demanding conditions.

Indra will deliver an In-Flight Ground Support (IFGS) application that will bridge the airborne NE-3A into ground elements. By connecting the NE-3A to GMTI, chat, and joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (JISR) products through enhanced satellite communications networks, this powerful tool will quickly provide unrivalled information access to our operator’s when it is most needed.

KDA is responsible for the mission display software in the form of the Situation Console Computer Programme (SCCP). This critical interface connects AWACS mission system operators to the sensors and communications tools that make the NE-3A an effective AEW&C platform. The new SCCP maximizes the utility of the new, bigger and higher definition operator work station displays (scopes) while streamlining the current NMT tactical displays with a more intuitive and easier to interpret interface.

Boeing, along with integrating the new software from Airbus, INDRA, and KDA, will provide an upgraded ESM software programme enabling operators to take advantage of an extensive ESM hardware enhancement. Upon completion of its software development and integration efforts, Boeing will deliver the final product to the NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen FLEP Software Integration Lab (SIL) to undergo extensive acceptance testing. Once the software satisfactorily passes testing, it will be loaded on the first FLEP-modified NE-3A aircraft for ground and flight testing and, as FLEP progresses, will ultimately be fielded across the entire FLEP-modified fleet.

NAPMA will manage this effort on behalf of NATO with a highly-experienced team of engineers and programme managers. However, the software effort has greatly benefited from inputs and expertise provided by NATO AWACS mission system operators and software sustainment personnel from the NAEW&C Force. How FLEP software looks and feels when it is ultimately delivered will be the result of this combined team’s incredible efforts to maintain the NE-3A’s operational viability in a multi-domain operational environment through 2035.

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