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Wing's warthogs get smart

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Leo Brown
  • 442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
You can build just about anything on a good foundation.

Air Force Reservists of the 442nd Aircraft Maintenance and 303rd Fighter Squadrons are being reminded of that as five of the 442nd Fighter Wing's A-10s are being equipped with "smart" color multi-function color display systems.

This technology, new to the A-10, is manufactured by the Raytheon Company, headquartered in Waltham, Mass., and will provide a host of cutting edge capabilities for pilots, including increased awareness and communication.

"The A-10 was designed as a bare-bones airplane," said Maj. David Kurle, 442nd FW chief of public affairs. "It wasn't designed with all these modifications in mind. When it came into the inventory in 1975, no one had any idea it was going to last as long as it has." (Currently, the A-10 is scheduled to be in the Air Force inventory more than 20 years into the future.)

Lt. Col. Mark Ernewein, the assistant director of operations in the 303rd Fighter Squadron, said, "The original A-10 was just an aircraft with weapons systems on it. It wasn't integrated to the Army or to the battlefield at all."

The 442nd AMXS began installing the systems in 2006 and the technology, according to Colonel Ernewein, "is a huge jump for the A-10s."

Combat multi-tasking
"We are now joining the data-link world," he said. "(This) is just like the Internet for the armed forces. That's the number one asset this brings to us. The Army has about half their assets as part of the data-link world."

"The data-link is just one aspect of what it does," Colonel Ernewein said. The system also serves as a display monitor for the Litening II targeting pod and Maverick missiles.

"It runs the targeting pod and captures images that can be sent to personnel on the ground," he said. "It lets us pass targeting information, imagery and video between ground personnel and fliers, as well as to command and control with increased resolution.

"We're replacing a (black and white) monitor built in the 1970s," Colonel Ernewein said. Tech. Sgt. Rik Davis, an avionics technician with the 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's Specialist Flight, said, "It helps (pilots) pinpoint targets instead of having to say, 'It's the building to the right of the white gate' or something like that."

As a pilot who will use the new system in the A-10, Colonel Ernewein had high praise for the technology.

"It's a network that's modular so not everybody has to be in a line of sight with everyone else," he said. "It's just like the Internet. I see a target and I can make that my sensor point of interest. My wingman will see my call sign (on the screen in another A-10) and I can capture his sensor's point of interest. I can fly his targeting pod from my aircraft. It's much more streamlined, efficient and much more complex.

Enhanced situational awareness
"It has a situational awareness page. It has moving maps, as well as imagery and range rings," the lieutenant colonel said. "The system has its own processors in it. It's two of the fastest processors in any aircraft. It's modular and inexpensive and can be linked with any modification of the aircraft.

"I used to carry all my maps to the aircraft and now everything is on (my USB thumb drive)," Colonel Ernewein said. "When I get a target, I can sort out where the nearest friendlies are located, which is important for reducing fratricide." Along with imagery, it can overlay the "order of battle" on the ground.

Colonel Ernewein also noted that the system allows pilots, through the "situational awareness data link," which the Army also possesses, to see friendly and enemy locations.

The increased technology is a bit of double-edged sword, according to Colonel Ernewein, in that it can be "overwhelming.

"We're developing tactics, techniques and procedures for how to use this system," he said. "There're so many capabilities in it, you have to narrow down specific tasks for our mission on which to focus."

Maintenance magic
None of this capability would be possible, however, were it not for the know-how and dedication of the maintenance Airmen installing the MFCD.

"Once you run and install the wiring and the line-replaceable units, you have to do all the follow-on operational checks," Sergeant Davis said. "A whole new control stick has to be installed with new buttons. There are dozens of checks and that involves three or four shops. Crew chiefs have to put the aircraft on jacks and do landing-gear retraction. The armaments shop does gun-function checks."

This process, according to Sergeant Davis, typically takes more than 200 hours.

Maintenance troops also have to contend with the simple mathematical problem of currently possessing only five systems for the wing's fleet of 24 A-10s.

As planes go in for phase inspections or other repairs, the systems must be taken out and re-installed in other aircraft to train pilots and keep them current on the system.

"We're learning as we go," Sergeant Davis said. "I think from what I'm being told, though, we're having luck."

While such work can be tedious and frustrating, Sergeant Davis said it simply must be done.

"We have to do it," he said "There are no ifs, ands or buts. For a modification, it hasn't gone too bad. We're getting it done and they're flying with it."

On the flipside, Sergeant Davis said pilots, after flying A-10s with the system, provide feedback to maintenance by describing what they experienced in the air. Also, additional systems are scheduled to arrive in the future and will be installed in the wing's entire fleet of A-10s.

"The pilots will say, 'It's actually doing this,'" he said. "So we use that information to troubleshoot (the system). It's a lot of playing with buttons and figuring out what they do."

As bugs are worked out to make the A-10 more effective, Sergeant Davis said the 442nd is not alone in this process.

Four other A-10 wings are at various stages of implementing this system.