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Hanscom helping to defend NCR

  • Published
  • By Patty Welsh
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
A program management office here recently released a request for information to replace systems that protect the national capital region.

The National Capital Region-Integrated Air Defense System, or NCR-IADS, originated as an urgent capability. Following the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, realized a need to improve low altitude, low airspeed detection capability in order to act against airborne threats against the national capital region. This led to the establishment of IADS to protect NCR assets that hostile entities could target.

"The system was originally built from scratch to identify and mitigate threats," said John Delgado, project manager. "It currently has GOTS (government-off-the-shelf) and COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) technology with proprietary custom-built software. The RFI, which is specifically for the ERSA (enhanced regional situational awareness) system, will help move us to an open-systems architecture."

ERSA, using various long-range cameras located within the NCR, and operator workstations, provides visual identification of aircraft to the operational commander and has the ability to visually warn pilots that enter restricted airspace.

Delgado said "moving to an open architecture will allow for improved situational awareness, easier incorporation of new and updated technologies, consolidation of servers and reduction of sustainment costs over the lifecycle."

He added that cost would be a driving factor to determine whether the upgrades will be modular rather than a complete system replacement.

When originally created in 2002, the NCR-IADS was considered beyond state-of-the-art. In fact, this system was one of the first to have a fusion center to collect the various data inputs. The fusion center aggregates FAA radars, sentinel radars, flight plan data and data links to create an air picture for situational awareness of the NCR.  Since then, the ERSA system has undergone multiple technology refresh efforts. Some recent additions include adding infrared capabilities to the camera system and establishing new ERSA workstations at the Eastern and Western Air Defense Sectors. 

However, the area of visual surveillance has grown exponentially and, according to program officials, market research has identified numerous vendors that can potentially support future modifications.

"Lots of industries use surveillance technology today - law enforcement, private security companies, municipalities and retail," said Bill Meskill, Information Assurance manager. "We need to leverage on what they're doing and take advantage of technology improvement."

However, the challenge remains on how to take a more than decade-old program that was created to meet a rapid need and transition it to a sustainable program while meeting or exceeding its current capability.

"ERSA is predicated on a 13-year-old architecture," said Delgado. "By modernizing ERSA, we will reduce the system's footprint, cost and obtain greater efficiencies."

NCR-IADS was originally fielded by the Rapid Capabilities Office in 2002. Hanscom has managed the NCR-IADS program since 2006. Upgrades to the original system were fielded beginning in December 2009; efforts are ongoing to make the system compatible with data link standards, improve cyber security, and merge program management office staffing with Battle Control System-Fixed because of the mission alignment between the two programs.

Other upcoming work includes testing the recent camera upgrades and new ERSA workstations. The team at Hanscom will also be looking at cross-domain solutions to provide a gateway that ensures only the right information goes to the right destinations.

Because of its rapid fielding, NCR-IADS is a non-standard acquisition program that the program management office is working to normalize. In addition to the improvements above, the team will also ensure that appropriate acquisition documentation is in place. Starting in fiscal year 2016, the NCR-IADS program will transition to centralized asset management funding and continue with a five-year technology refresh cycle.

"We are taking something that was put together for an urgent need, which the user then decided needed to be kept," said Delgado. "Now we need to ensure, as we enter sustainment, that we have built the next generation creatively and wisely using today's technology while looking to the future."