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CHIPS Articles: NSWC PCD's Aerostat Offers New, Unlimited Computational Relay Opportunities

NSWC PCD's Aerostat Offers New, Unlimited Computational Relay Opportunities
By Jacqui Barker - April 18, 2012
Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) scientists and engineers have designed and developed an Adaptive Force Package Mobile Test Bed (AFPMTB), complete with an aerostat, to reduce testing and training costs for expeditionary warfighters. The combined technologies of the AFPMTB meets the Secretary of Defense’s call to deliver rapidly deployable, agile, adaptable capabilities that are inexpensive, innovative and technologically advanced.

Presently located on the Gulf of Mexico in Panama City, Fla., the AFPMTB includes a Rapidly Elevated Aerostat Platform (REAP) XL-B system, one of only three in the world, and NSWC PCD, a leader in littoral warfare and coastal defense, has the only one in the United States.

The REAP XL-B system includes an expeditionary and modular aerostat that inflates quickly and offers an innovative means to deliver over-the-horizon (OTH) command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities to warfighters. The system also includes a small modular platform from which the aerostat and its payload are rapidly deployed, automatically inflated and elevated to 500 feet in 10 minutes. Once deployed, the aerostat is capable of surviving wind gusts of 45 miles per hour due to the Kevlar tether with double Kevlar braid and 2,000-pound winch. Aerostat deflation and recovery time from 500 feet is only 12 minutes.

"Aerostat supports the future warfighter's needs for platform independent warfare capability packages," said Mike Grunden, a Mission Package Integration Lab (MPIL) systems engineer (Code A32) from NSWC PCD. "AFPMTB allows emerging warfighting capabilities to be tested in a mobile laboratory-type environment."

"The Army is using the REAP XL-B now. NSWC PCD initially will use it to extend the communications range to unmanned vehicles to control them from shore." said Jay Doane, C3 senior systems engineer (Code A30M from NSWC PCD). "Operating unmanned vehicles from shore instead of loading two 20-foot containers with C4 equipment on a ship and operating from sea will reduce testing and training costs."

With the aerostat, operators can control unmanned vehicles like the Remote Minehunting System (RMS) or the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) from the Mission Package Integration Lab. The MPIL is located in the Littoral Warfare Research Facility (LWSF) at NSWC PCD, which was built in 2009 to specifically integrate Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) mine warfare mission package software and hardware into the two different LCS sea frames. Radio frequency transmissions from the building's rooftop antenna transmit information to and from the building's lab to the aerostat as it flies above NSWC PCD, then relays data to and from the unmanned vehicles operating in St. Andrews Bay, located in Bay County in the panhandle of Fla., or in the Gulf of Mexico. The REAP XL-B system is not limited to delivering ISR or C4 capabilities to just the LCS program; it is an NSWC PCD capital investment project (CIP) asset available to support any program.

"This can be used to support experimentations, technology transitions and systems demonstrations of a broad variety of mission capabilities," Grunden said. "The aerostat can be deployed from both platforms of opportunity and shore-based locations in support of other science and technology (S&T) or research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) experiments. It's not limited to one or the other."

"This test bed also consists of a series of state-of-the-market servers that are actually a developmental, deployable, platform independent computational and communications capability," Grunden said. "Together with the aerostat, the AFPMTB offers joint and expeditionary warfighters a new way to conduct multi-mission planning, C4ISR and data analysis from an adaptable, modular, open architecture test bed."

In 2009, an initial aerostat test was conducted in Panama City, Fla., as a proof of concept experiment. A joint demonstration with the Army to demonstrate the functionality and capability of the AFPMTB is presently scheduled for April 2012 at NSWC PCD.

The AFPMTB with the REAP XL-B system is available for use through the NSWC PCD LWSF Service Cost Center (SCC). A video of aerostat and REAP is available at: For more information, visit

Jacqui Barker is with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division office of public affairs. For more information send an email to or phone (850) 230-7400.

NSWC PCD employees at REAP XL-B System training in Huntsville, Ala., Aug. 19, 2011. Pictured are: (front row) Brad Foret and Jay Doane; (back row) Kenny Johnson, Josh Strickland, AJ Rivera and Dan Breton. Courtesy photo.
NSWC PCD employees at REAP XL-B System training in Huntsville, Ala., Aug. 19, 2011. Pictured are: (front row) Brad Foret and Jay Doane; (back row) Kenny Johnson, Josh Strickland, AJ Rivera and Dan Breton. Courtesy photo.
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