New Navigation Technology Helps F-22 Sharpen Angles of Attack

Warrior Maven

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by Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) The success of high-speed air-to-air combat engagement accelerated flight into enemy fire against air-defenses, aerial surveillance missions, and precision-strikes on enemy ground targets of course rest upon a pilot’s ability to know a plane’s exact location, movement patterns and angle of attack.

This kind of combat operation is often heavily interwoven with, or even reliant upon, “secured” navigational systems such as GPS and Inertial navigational technologies. GPS, while ubiquitous and critical to military operations, is also known to in some cases be vulnerable to hacking, jamming and various kinds of enemy intrusion. The risk of having combat maneuvers and tactics compromised is therefore significant, a circumstance which continues to inspire widespread Pentagon efforts to both “harden” GPS and establish supplemental and alternative guidance systems.

An emerging, shoe-box size navigation capability is being developed to address these challenges and vastly improve and strengthen what’s known as positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) parameters. Accurate PNT details can of course help pilots precisely determine where they are in relation to surrounding threats and terrain and determine exactly how much they are moving and accelerating through an elaborate, high-tech measurement process.

The Northrop Grumman product, known as the Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System-Modernization (EGI-M), recently completed what’s called a critical design review, a key step prior to detailed design and development of production hardware and software leading to aircraft integration.

Planned to first integrate into F-22 jets and E-2D Hawkeye surveillance planes, the box collects data over time, which is continually processed by software able to calculate exactly how much the aircraft has accelerated and moved, establishing a specific trajectory, Brandon White, the vice president of navigation and positioning systems for Northrop Grumman, explained to the Warrior in an interview.

“What we are talking about is a leap in front of a new generation of navigation for the Air Force, Navy and DoD. This makes a GPS solution more robust and also enables high-performance time synchronization without GPS. It can extend the life of operations in a GPS-denied environment and provide precise knowledge of time and position,” White said.

Northrop Grumman is developing an emerging navigation capability that will integrate state-of-the-art inertial technology along with enhanced timing and modernized GPS M-code signals to address these challenges, company officials said.

“When a jet goes to release a weapon, it knows where it is. Knowing where you are and having precise timing is key,” White added.

The application of EGI-M, therefore, seems apparent, introduces several new tactical possibilities, such as a scenario wherein a Navy Hawkeye E-2D surveillance asset might need to operate with precision in an area where GPS networks are either highly-threatened or rendered ineffective. Furthermore, the tactical relevance clearly extends beyond a single, isolated platform as modern operational reality of course hinges upon massive amounts of networking and data sharing. A Hawkeye’s relevance pertains not only to what it can detect but how it can use radio, GPS, datalinks and other networking technologies to share information of pressing operational significance. Perhaps a Hawkeye, having solidified its PNT in a hostile area, can radio navigational and targeting positions to nearby fighter jets, Navy ships, or even space assets.

The technical specifics of how EGI-M achieves its PNT data are indeed quite complex, as they pertain to advanced scientific principles, software and computer technology able to calculate essential “measurements” of movement, acceleration and position changes. White explained that “gyroscopes and accelerometers” can track movements of an object according to certain established laws of physics.

Brandon White, Vice President, Navigation and Positioning Systems, Northrop Grumman, told The National Interest in an interview that newer PNT uses what’s called Fiber-Optic Gyroscope, a technology which operates in accordance with established scientific phenomena regarding the effect of angular rotation on counter-propagating beams of light. A navigation system based on inertial measurements from gyroscopes and accelerometers can either start with, supplement and solidify a GPS signal or alternatively function independently as needed, White said. 

The inertial sensing, White told me, is established by how “the gyro can measure a difference in the phase of light propagating through an optical fiber coil.” Interestingly, the scientific process, which relies upon a famous concept called the Sagnac effect, includes a way to assess the rotations generated when two beams of light are injected into the same fiber in opposite directions, according to a 1996 essay called “The Fundamentals of The Interferometric Fiber-Optic Gyroscope.” (Herve Lefevre)

Interferometry, a measurement process using electromagnetic and optical waves, is used to analyze the “angular frequency” and “velocity” of light, Lefevre’s essay explains. Simply put, the science of measurement movements enables computers to calculate a continued trajectory with specific location details. This complex scientific process, White explained, naturally bears heavily upon combat performance. 

In addition to engineering technologies to leverage or optimize results emerging from these scientific phenomena, Northrop Grumman developers have built additional security measures into the EGI-M by separating off or stovepiping specific elements of the system which might be vulnerable to interference if left open or “pooled” within broader scope of functional areas.

“The real magic is we are isolating functions for core navigation, airworthiness, and cybersecurity from an open area that can be used to insert new apps, including from 3rd parties, for specific mission requirements,” White said. 

Also, as opposed to mechanical gyroscopes which have been used in missile systems for several decades, Fiber-Optic Gyroscopes are inherently more secure, according to a 2000 essay from the International Society for Optics and Photonics called “Progress in the Development of Gyroscopes for Use in Tactical Weapon Systems.” 

“A FOG provides extremely precise rotational rate information, in part because of its lack of cross-axis sensitivity to vibration, acceleration, and shock. Unlike the classic spinning-mass gyroscope or resonant/mechanical gyroscopes, the FOG has no moving parts and doesn’t rely on inertial resistance to movement,” the essay states. (Paul Ruffin) 

Ruffin goes on to explain that the Pentagon’s development of Fiber Optic Gyroscopes have been fast increasing in recent years, building upon years of work applying Gyroscope technologies to weapons systems. 

“During the past two decades, tremendous progress has been made in advancing the performance capability of solid-state optical gyroscopes for use in tactical weapon systems,” Ruffin writes. 

White added that the EGI-M is engineered for the future, as it is already being migrated into additional systems. This is expedited through the use of carefully established technical standards intended to enable continued modernization and software upgrades over time. 

Ultimately, the goal with EGI-M is to “position all the DoD platforms to integrate navigation software upgrades as quickly as the threat environment changes,” White said. 

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is defense editor for the National Interest*. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.*

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