August 2023 | Content by José Luis Roca Blázquez, NAPMA PM - Hardware IPT

Ground Test Station, an essential element in the FLEP EMD phase

Last month the Ground Test Station, referred to as GTS, was delivered from the NCIA facilities at JFC Brunssum to the NATO E-3A Air Base in Geilenkirchen. In the next months the GTS will undergo the final build-up steps prior to site acceptance test. Engineering vetting for the use is achieved via the NAPMA Chief Engineer OSS&E process complemented by an Approval for Test (AfT).

The new capabilities will be tested on the first modified N-1 aircraft in Geilenkirchen at the Main Operating Base (MOB). To support the numerous Installation and Checkout (I&CO), Contractor Test (CT) as well as Developmental Test and Evaluation (DT&E) events, NAPMA was requested to provide a set of reference radio assets. The Ground Test Station (GTS) that was delivered to the flight line in June 2023 will be instrumental in testing with its integrated Command and Control (C2) Shelter solution of the various off-the-shelf HF, VHF/UHF and Link 16 equipment complemented by software diagnostic tools.

“Members of NAPMA’s Hardware IPT, Test IPT, QM and CTT at the entrance of the Ground Test Station” Photo by LogWing QA © 2023 - NATO

Design Consideration, Acquisition Strategy

NAPMA’s FLEP Hardware Integrated Product Team (IPT) has been responsible for the GTS from initial concept to the current deployment at Geilenkirchen. After mapping the FLEP technical requirements to GTS utilization and gathering information from existing test procedures and the Combined Test Team (CTT), NCIA was tasked with proposing a design to be implemented within the tight schedule of FLEP. In order to reduce the risk due to the long lead times of procuring military equipment, NCIA proposed re-using equipment in-hand including repurposing a deployable communication shelter originally designed for other NATO Allied operations.

To optimize the support required to operate and maintain the GTS, the concept of “GTS-as-a-Service” was agreed upon, with NCIA providing the shelter and most of the equipment of the GTS. NAPMA provides the cryptographic equipment and the Link-16 elements which NCIA will incorporate into the shelter.

A phased approach was also elected to separate the design phase and to lay down a set of criteria for Operational Support. Not only did this allow the engineering effort to concentrate on the integration and the safety operation at an early stage but also enabled consideration of maintainability for the relatively short life cycle of the GTS.

Diagram-GTS © 2023 - NATO

Inside the GTS

The GTS is a comprehensive suite of communication equipment installed inside a standard ISO shipping container. Clear and secure voice communications as well as Tactical Data Link capabilities will allow the GTS to perform end-to-end checkout and communication systems testing on compatible aircraft. It has two operator workstations: one will specialize in Tactical Secure Voice to test out the various modes of the new modernized cryptos; the other will specialize in Link-16 datalink including the capability to simulate a fighter aircraft or to display the air picture provided by the NE-3A. This setup will allow monitoring multiple communications simultaneously.

The GTS is a proof of a successful joint collaboration between NAPMA and other NATO entities such as NCIA, NAEW&CF, NATO E-3A Component, and the Integrated Multilink Facility (IMF). It demonstrates great partnership in acquiring the needed capabilities in a short time, in an efficient way and according to methodical engineering proceedings.

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