E-6B Aircraft Upgrade Production Work Begins

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2003

In January, an E-6B Mercury communications relay and strategic airborne command post aircraft, modified with a new cockpit and an advanced communications package, arrived at NAS Patuxent River, MD, for joint testing by VX-20 and Boeing. The upgrade is being managed by NAVAIR’s PMA-271. Following successful tests at PAX, the prototype aircraft returned to Boeing’s Development and Modification Center in Wichita, KS.

With both mission system and cockpit display upgrades, the aircraft yields additional data processing and communications capabilities, as well as enhanced crew situational awareness.

The mission system upgrade provides Automated Data Processing, Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA), and Weight Savings (ADWS). Wide bandwidth data capability is also included through integration of a phased array antenna system. The improvements include Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET) and Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network functions. Highlights of these functions include two separate onboard servers (classified and unclassified), access to servers on the ground via command managed local area network communication links, airborne user interface via laptop computers, and Ku-band (high-speed) uplink and DAMA or Northstar Network downlink.

According to Renee Hatcher, Public Affairs Officer for NAVAIRSYSCOM, the upgrade primarily involves the ability of the aircraft and crew to access intelligence information via the SIPRNET. “Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA) services available aboard the upgraded aircraft provide increased efficiency in the allocation of limited satellite resources, and operate on designated non-processed 5 kHz and 25 kHz channels on Fleet Satellite Communications System and UHF Follow-on satellites,” Hatcher explained. “Users are not assigned fixed channels; users request access to a DAMA controller via orderwire circuit, the controller assigns an available channel, and the users relinquish that channel upon completion.” There are two basic DAMA services: 5 kHz and 25 kHz. Each DAMA channel must operate under a network controller to process user requests, assign resources, and monitor channel activity.

The production work is being done by the Boeing Military Aerospace Support Group (St. Louis, MO) and refitting commenced in February at the Boeing Aerospace Support Center, Cecil Field, FL. The work is being done under two contracts totaling $ 183 million. All 16 Navy E-6 aircraft are being upgraded, with work expected to be completed by November, 2005.

All 16 Navy E-6B aircraft are being upgraded to the new communications standards (photo: Boeing)