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‘The company legacy has been building state-of-the-art systems of this class and has developed unique methods for the design, calibration and testing of the subsystems to make such long-range performance possible’
Director Business Development, ISR Systems, UTAS, Larry Maver

Please provide the history of the DB 110 and what are its most important characteristics?
UTAS developed the DB-110 to address an emerging worldwide market for digital reconnaissance systems that would replace existing wet-film systems. Digital EO/IR (electro-optical and infrared) offered a 24-hour day/night capability and enabled the near real-time data link transmission of imagery to ground exploitation systems so that intelligence information could be provided to decision makers in the shortest possible time.

The company invested in the design, development and production of their 1st Generation DB-110, a single field of view LOROP system. This system was a derivative of the then current SYERS (USAF U-2) sensor, but designed for smaller and more stressing environments (podded applications under a tactical jet). The 1st Gen DB-110 was first flown in the United Kingdom on a Tornado aircraft in 1997 in the company’s bid for the RAF Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado (RAPTOR) programme. The DB-110 was selected by the UK MoD over competing offers from two other US companies.

UTAS-built eight Raptor pods in what became the 2nd Generation DB-110, which added a second, wide field of view to accommodate the RAF requirement for a medium-altitude, close range/overflight capability. This development added significantly to the DB-110’s mission capability. Historically, separate cameras were needed to perform LOROP and overflight missions, often requiring an aircraft to return to base to be outfitted with a new pod. With the DB-110’s two fields of view, the same sensor/pod could be programmed to perform both missions during a single sortie.

The Japanese Navy was the next customer for the DB-110, procuring six systems for operation on a special mission P-3 aircraft. Both RAPTOR and the P-3 systems were 2nd Gen DB-110s and are still in service in 2015. In 2003, the Polish Air Force selected the DB-110 for their F-16 aircraft. UTAS upgraded the system to its 3rd Gen configuration and also designed a new pod compatible with F-16 carriage. The sensor upgrades included a 3rd field of view for low-altitude imaging as well as new detectors (EO and IR) for improved imaging performance. As of 2015, there are now nine F-16 countries using this system as well as one F-15 operator.

What were the technological challenges in developing a camera such as the DB 110 and how have the users responded to its capabilities?
The most critical aspect of a DB-110 or other long-range camera is to provide high performance at long range standoff distances. Long focal length systems require precise stabilisation and image motion compensation to provide ‘blur-free’ imagery. The company legacy has been building state-of-the-art systems of this class and has developed unique methods for the design, calibration and testing of the subsystems to make such long-range performance possible. The user response to long-range EO/IR systems is significant.

Most air forces worldwide have adopted such systems as it is increasingly necessary to monitor situations from safe standoff distances. The majority of DB-110 operators use fast jets for carriage, but there are now two business jet programmes and the system has also been successfully demonstrated on the MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

What are the shortcomings of previous generation ISR sensors compared to what is on the market today?
Digital EO/IR systems have replaced wet-film photographic systems in nearly all mission applications. The capability to transmit and disseminate data in near real-time is an overriding advantage and there are also economic and environmental benefits to eliminating wet-film processing facilities.

However, there are still real world conditions that limit the ability of optical reconnaissance systems to provide intelligence. Weather (clouds or extremely hazy atmospheric conditions) can significantly or totally prevent useful data from being collected. UTAS is developing a complementary all-weather pod, TacSAR, which will provide all-weather imagery using a synthetic aperture radar sensor in place of the DB-110 EO/IR system.

TacSAR will use a two-dimensional Active Electronically Scanned Antenna (ASEA) to collect SPOT, STRIP, and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) data that will be data linked to the same DB-110 ground exploitation systems as our customers use today. UTAS is beginning the design of the 4th Generation DB-110. The natural progression of DB-110 is to enhance its capabilities with multi-spectral bands as is our heritage with SYERS. Given the large number of 3rd Gen DB-110 systems in service, UTAS is designing the new capabilities which can be retrofitted to current systems.


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