Technology Demonstration of SHARP, the Navy's Next-Generation Tactical Reconnaissance System
- Directorates & Divisions
- Nanoscience Institute
- Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research
- NRL Review
- 2011 NRL Review
- 2010 NRL Review
- 2009 NRL Review
- 2008 NRL Review
- 2007 NRL Review
- 2006 NRL Review
- 2005 NRL Review
- 2004 NRL Review
- 2003 NRL Review
- 2002 NRL Review
- Featured Research
- Atmospheric Science
- Chemical/Biochemical Research
- Electronics and Electromagnetics
- Energetic Particles, Plasmas & Beams
- Information Technology
- Materials Science and Technology
- Ocean Science and Technology
- Optical Sciences
- Remote Sensing
- Simulation, Computing, & Modeling
- Space Research
- Future Naval Capabilities
- NRL Research Library
- Program Sponsors
- Accept the Challenge
- About NRL
- Doing Business
- Public Affairs & Media
- Field Sites
- Visitor Info
- Contact NRL
Optical Sciences Division
Introduction: The NRL Optical Sciences Division has designed, implemented, and demonstrated the prototype version of the SHAred Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP). The August 28, 2001 demonstration at the Pentagon showed successful operation of all aspects of a state-of-the-art, tactical digital reconnaissance system. This included dual-band visible and infrared (IR) imagery collection aboard both the Navy's F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft and an NRL P-3, and downlinking the collected imagery in real time on a 274 megabit-per-second common data link (CDL) to the NAVy Input Station (NAVIS) ground station for real-time image screening and exploitation. Two cameras for standoff oblique imagery were demonstrated: one for medium range (approximately 5 to 15 nmi) and one for long range (approximately 15 to 50 nmi) on the F/A-18 and the P-3 aircraft, respectively. Technologies for in-cockpit image screening of reconnaissance imagery and for realtime nonuniformity correction of IR imagery were also demonstrated on the ground in conjunction with the airborne demonstration. The demonstration has had major impact; both Pentagon Tri-Service staff and Congressional staff were in attendance.
SHARP Hardware: Figure 4 shows the SHARP pod and payload. The SHARP pod, manufactured by Raytheon Technical Services Company (RTSC), is approximately the size of a 330-gal fuel tank and is carried on the centerline of an F/A-18 aircraft. The pod has a rotating midsection that keeps the pod's 11 X 18 in. window aligned with the camera optics. The pod also has an environmental control system designed to cool pod electronics. Visible and IR images captured by the camera are compressed, stored on a digital recorder, and simultaneously transmitted to the ground using a steerable antenna. The camera produces downsampled images that are sent as a video signal to the F/A-18 cockpit for aircrew monitoring. The F/A-18 crew can control the collection, storage, and datalinking of reconnaissance data or those tasks can be completely automated using mission planning data.
NRL developed the hardware and software that constitutes the prototype SHARP Reconnaissance Management System (SRMS). This includes compression hardware (to reduce data-flow and data-storage requirements by >80%), control software for the camera and all other electronic components, and software for communicating with the aircraft. The prototype SHARP system was integrated, under NRL's direction, with the F/A-18 aircraft first at the Boeing Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri, and then at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, California, and Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, Maryland. The SHARP payload was integrated with the SHARP pod at RTSC in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the completed pod underwent extensive testing there.
Simultaneous with the SHARP pod integration of the medium-range dual-band camera and the pod with the F/A-18 aircraft, NRL also directed the integration of a second set of SHARP electronics on an NRL P-3 aircraft. The second SHARP system was used to demonstrate a long-range camera during the Pentagon demonstration.
Figure 5 shows the SHARP pod on an F/A-18 aircraft. Figure 5(a) shows the F/A-18 on the ground, and Fig. 5(b) shows the same F/A-18 in flight over the Washington, D.C. area. During image acquisition, the pod midsection rotates the window to an operational position. The pod window can be seen in Fig. 5(b). Figure 5(c) shows an NRL P-3 with a modified bomb-bay structure for supporting a camera and window. Figure 5(d) shows a close-up of the camera support structure.
Test and Demonstration Flight Results: The two cameras flown during the SHARP demonstration were first evaluated for technical maturity on an NRL P-3. Figure 6 shows images of the Washington, D.C. area taken with the medium-range CA-270 camera on December 20, 2000. Both visible (Fig. 6(a)) and IR (Fig 6(b)) images were taken simultaneously at an altitude of 11,000 ft. The slant-range distance from the P-3 to the ground was 5.4 nmi for the near edge of the pictures and 10.2 nmi for the far edge. The visible image size is 5040 X 5040 pixels and the IR image size is 1680 X 1680 pixels.
Figure 7 is the waterfall display that was received over the datalink by the NAVIS ground station during the August 28, 2001, Pentagon demonstration flight. The data are from the medium-range camera flown on the F/A-18 aircraft. The mosaic of images is created from the downsampled images produced by the camera as it rotates in the cross-flight direction and takes a swath of snapshot images. The images are placed in their proper position geographically in real time using navigation data from the pod and aircraft. The full-resolution images are also received in real time, and they are available instantaneously when the NAVIS user clicks with a mouse on a downsampled image. The exploded view in Fig. 7 is a single full-resolution image showing part of the Pentagon in the upper left-hand corner. Combined with the aircraft navigational data, the NAVIS ground station provides accurate geolocation and mensuration capabilities on the full-resolution images. When combined with Falcon View flight planning software, a moving-map display of the sensor platform and camera coverage can also be displayed, as shown during the Pentagon demonstration.
Future tactical reconnaissance capabilities will depend on shortening the time between target detection and target strike. NRL has developed and demonstrated the Airborne Real-time Imagery Exploitation System (ARIES), a single board processor suitable for incorporation into the SRMS that provides the flight crew with enhanced image exploitation capability for timecritical strike. ARIES was operated on the ground at the Pentagon demonstration.
Conclusions: SHARP is scheduled to replace the Navy's current F-14 film reconnaissance capability by January 2003. Because of this tight schedule, the prototype phase of the SHARP program was established to demonstrate the maturity of new technical capabilities and to reduce the technology risk to later phases of the SHARP program. The prototype program successfully demonstrated real-time reconnaissance operation of the prototype SHARP system on an F/A-18 and of the prototype SHARP payload on a P-3 in coordinated flights. Each aircraft downlinked imagery to a NAVIS ground station and displayed that imagery in real time to the audience on August 28, 2001. The principal technology objectives - to verify that dual-band camera technology was sufficiently mature, and that the SRMS with its operating software could control the SHARP subsystems and deliver real-time high-bandwidth reconnaissance imagery - were achieved through the demonstration flight. The prototype system is now used as a test asset in support of the SHARP program.
[Sponsored by ONR]