February 2023 | Content by NAPMA Ground Systems IPT

FLEP… the BIG Picture

We all know that the NE-3A Final Lifetime Extension Programme (FLEP) will bring new functionalities and updates to the aircraft.
But there is much more to FLEP!
Several new and improved ground systems will be introduced. These modernization areas will improve mission planning, mission system testing, software configuration/maintenance and will provide a realistic mission environment to provide essential mission crew training on the ground.

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Mission Planning and Debriefing System (MPDS/DMPDS)

The MPDS includes hardware and software to prepare, compile, and store data before missions, as well as analyze and store post-mission data. The MPDS includes a web-based interface that facilitates mission data set creation. Mission crews can build fine-grained data sets from scratch, which include radio and tactical data link configurations, air tasking orders, maritime traffic history, etc., or build sets more quickly by editing only portions of previous data sets. In addition, the MPDS also introduces a new feature called the Mission Monitoring Instance (MMI) which can concurrently run a mirrored instance of the mission system on the ground and connect to live data sources from the aircraft over satellite. This makes it possible for an operator on the ground to have situational awareness of the mission in nearly real-time. Post flight, automated tools will analyze mission data to detect anomalies that may have not been discovered during flight.

Overall, the MPDS is a big step forward in managing pre- and post-mission data by reducing time spent preparing mission data while increasing the variety of data available during the mission to enable success when plans inevitably change. FLEP will deliver and install MPDS at the Main Operating Base in Geilenkirchen, as well as provide deployable versions (DMPDS) to be taken wherever the NE-3A needs to operate.

The System Integration Laboratory (SIL) and the Software Development Environment (SDE)

The SIL is an evolution of the former SIM 2 located in building 216 and will serve to test FLEP software functionality before on-aircraft testing. In a later phase, the SIL will be used to test software updates and to troubleshoot deployed software. This SIL emulates the entire mission system with possibilities for radio communication, satellite communication, data exchange with a simulated ground network, mission planning, and coordinated scenarios.

The SDE is a brand new development environment for MSEC engineers to maintain, update and debug the new mission software. Both the SIL and SDE are scheduled for completion this year, 2023.

The Ground Entry Point (GEP)

The GEP allows the aircraft to connect to the NATO Secret Network (NS-WAN) and Mission Secret Network (MS-WAN) allowing distributed control and operability with other remote stations. It also includes a satellite segment to establish satellite communication with the NE-3A supporting Iridium and Inmarsat. By the end of 2023, FLEP will introduce a new In Flight Ground Support (IFGS) capability in the GEP that will allow real-time, in-flight coordination with the aircraft, and will be able to prioritize data flows between the NE-3A and other external systems such as the Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS) and the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC).

Electronic Support Measures Database Environment (ESM DBE)

The FLEP ESM DBE will be a stand-alone system providing a secure area for ESM database management. Boeing will provide a number of ESM tools for library maintenance, configuration data preparation, data reduction, library validation, and the generation of SIL and aircraft support data.

Mission System Training Devices (MSTD)

As the NE-3A aircraft is being upgraded by FLEP, mission crews will need to train on the new mission system configuration. New MSTDs will replace the current Mission Training Centers, where newly implemented FLEP capabilities will be simulated in the most realistic way. The MSTDs are expected to be ready in 2025 and 2026, on time to support the mission crew training needs for the first FLEP jet to be operational.

In summary, FLEP is much more than just the aircraft modifications. Several other systems will provide the essential development, configuration, training, and interface capabilities to enable FLEPs full potential. All will play a key roles in making the NE-3A more capable and efficient than ever before.

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