Air Force looks to open up control of airborne sensors

The ISTAC program would allow third parties, not just the pilot, to control advanced targeting pods.

The Air Force is starting a new program that could potentially allow users other than the pilot to control airborne sensors—allowing shared access for multiple warfighters.

The Information Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory released a presolicitation for the Information Management-Enabled Sensor Tasking and Ad Hoc Control program yesterday. 

The goal of the program, which goes by the acronym ISTAC, is to provide third parties the ability to control the tasking of airborne sensors—without affecting pilot operation or the primary mission.

Current use of tactical airborne sensors such as advanced targeting pods (ATP) is limited by traditional stove-piped single operator controls, according to the solicitation. Pilots have to coordinate with an off-board user and manually control the sensor, and the lack of automation has resulted in increased pilot burden and slower response times.

“The result is suboptimal allocation of tactical sensors that have the opportunity to provide value to more than a single user at time,” says the Air Force.

AFRL plans to leverage three sets of existing government-owned software, increasing their capabilities to reach ISTAC’s goals:

Marti, which is an embedded information management software service that provides real-time situational awareness, is to be integrated with ISTAC tasking capabilities.

Android Tactical Assault Kit, or ATAK, is a situational awareness tool based on Android that will be able to enable third-party tasking in ISTAC through real-time sensor control plugins.

And OpenPod comprises a software framework and open hardware architecture that would include an application programming interface that would allow third-party applications be integrated into ATPs.

ISTAC will first conduct a capability analysis on pilot ATP usage and a review on on-board and off-board requirements. The program will then develop technologies that could enable opportunistic task generation, a task prioritization prototype, and then technologies that would allow integrated closed-loop control.

One of the possible uses for third-party tasking that ISTAC will be looking at is to enhance vision-aided navigation in GPS-degraded environments. ATPs can be leveraged to integrate this capability onto existing aircraft by extending information management services onto the targeting pods, resulting in improved positioning, navigation and timing capabilities.

Total funding for the Broad Agency Announcement is about $9.9 million. AFRL is only soliciting white papers at this time. Proposers seeking fiscal year 2015 awards are recommended to submit their white papers by Oct. 31, 2014.