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JSF Has Eyes Only for Enemy

Northrop Grumman today made a pitch for the fifth-generation radar system being developed for the F-35 that will come as music to the ears of generals and politicians alike.

The AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array array is intended to give pilots in the still-in-the-future plane the ability to engage air and ground targets at long range and improve situational awareness. But it also comes with the capability of distinguishing between enemy and friendly targets -- something that field commanders and policy makers alike understand has real value.

Case in point -- Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is now telling the newly arrived commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that one of his top priorities is the elimination of civilian deaths. A series of air strikes against Taliban forces have allegedly killed a number of civilians, making the U.S.'s job of winning over the support of the Afghans -- or keeping that support where it has it -- more difficult.

"To eliminate fratricide activities, what we've been working on is automatic tracking and queuing software -- it's mostly a software-intensive activity," Mark Gaertner, business development director ror Aerospace Systems Division at Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, told DoDBuzz today in Paris. Northrop Grumman is here promoting its various defense programs.

"Once we identified the targets or the moving targets in the indication software with the radar, we then take those and match them against the data base of proven targets, and the ones that are military targets are then found, and the ones that are not are then taken off the screen or eliminated from sight."

The company is also highlighting its Distributed Aperture System -- DAS -- which it says will give the plane essentially 20/20 vision all around the aircraft, day or night, and regardless of cloud cover. DAS also can find and identify weapons systems on the ground and instantly give the information to the pilot, Gaertner said.

Think "the Force" from Star Wars and you've got the idea of what Northrop Grumman is saying DAS will do -- a kind of constant, unbroken field around the aircraft able to detect, ID and track threats.

And in the air, the system can continuously ID and track friendly and enemy aircraft, making the possibility of friendly fire death in the skies unlikely, he said.

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