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The Power of PDAS: Lockheed Martin’s Foundation for Rotary-Wing Survivability

Lockheed Martin has been a technical innovator of Army Aviation mission equipment for more than three decades. When the Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (TADS/PNVS) entered service in 1983, it dramatically enhanced combat effectiveness by giving Apache pilots the ability to own the night—and continues to evolve with the modernized TADS/PNVS. Today, the Army is poised to make another transformational leap forward—fielding sensor solutions that will boost platform survivability and enable pilots to own the environment.

In partnership with Army stakeholders, Lockheed Martin is working to widen that survivability aperture. In 2014, our engineers began work on a fully open architecture, integrated survivability suite that provides aircrews of Joint Multi-Role Tech Demonstrators and current fleet aircraft 24/7 freedom of maneuver in all environments and a universal threat detection and defeat. Next year, this suite will be a TRL 6 offering that surpasses performance capabilities offered by existing systems—as well as those in Quick Reaction development today.

The Pilotage Distributed Aperture Sensor (PDAS) system is the foundation of our survivability suite. PDAS provides a 360-degree situational awareness sphere around the aircraft to pilots and crew. It features technologies and components developed specifically for Army vertical lift platforms and their unique performance, weight and cost requirements.

PDAS is a network of integrated sensors distributed around the aircraft linked to aircrew displays via an open-architecture processor (OAP). The system’s modular open systems architecture (MOSA) supports ready integration of sensor and processing technologies, enabling rapid subsystem upgrades to meet emerging threats.

PDAS provides real-time, multi-spectral fused imagery to head-tracked, high-resolution helmet-mounted displays capable of displaying video with pilotage quality. It also constructs a persistent world model database to support other on- and off-board mission applications like autonomy and cognitive decision aids.

With PDAS, the aircraft’s sensor system is no longer limited to pilots. Multiple users can independently interact with PDAS to increase situational awareness for a variety of tasks. Examples include scanning an area prior to inserting an assault force, coordinating door-gunner and landing zone operations, managing sling loads and conducting fast-rope operations.

Even managing all of that, the OAP has plenty of processing power to spare for other functions. Some capabilities we are demonstrating now include a scene and point and multi-object tracking capability, and automatic search and track functions that automatically identify and track moving ground and airborne targets.

With the architecture supporting six sensors and a powerhouse OAP in place, PDAS provides an open foundation for an integrated survivability suite that supports an expanded range of capabilities. Like multi-modal sensor fusion to restore situational awareness in degraded visual environments and navigate in GPS-denied areas, and missile warning and hostile fire detection for protection against enemy action. The MOSA design gives Army stakeholders the freedom to define capabilities we haven’t even considered yet.

An integrated survivability suite with the OAP at its core offers an opportunity to consolidate a multitude of proprietary systems that perform singular functions into a more streamlined and open system. This eliminates now-redundant components and enhances aircraft performance by significantly reducing weight and logistics burdens.

We’ve already conducted flight tests on UH-60 Black Hawk test aircraft to mature our PDAS offering. Next up are flights on the Bell V-280 tech demonstrator.

Lockheed Martin’s PDAS system changes the game when it comes to improving pilot situational awareness. And as the foundation for an integrated survivability suite that enables pilots to own any environment and detect and defeat any threat, it supports the most important function of all: enhancing the aircrew’s ability to complete the mission and return home safely.