Meet Boeing's Ramis Tactical ISR Testbed

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Boeing has been pushing hard to come on strong into the tactical ISR market. Despite the sputtering of the Enhanced Medium-Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System (Emarss) program for the U.S. Army, it seems the company had a secret customer that helped underpin the business a few years ago. But, what was known as the Yellow Jacket demonstrator for that unnamed customer has been morphed for roughly three years into what we now know as Ramis, the Reconfigurable Airborne Multi-Intelligence System.

Credit: Boeing

The KingAir 350 ER-based system is an improvement over other such platforms hastily fielded during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars because they allow for rapid swapping out of sensors and are based on open-source, Windows 7-based software, says Mike Ferguson, Boeing's Ramis business development official.

Systems such as the L-3 Communications MC-12W Project Liberty, built for the U.S. Air Force, and Yellow Jacket were specific designs developed for a specific mission set, says Ashan Iqbar, Boeing's Ramis program manager. In the case of the MC-12W, the signals intelligence (sigint) and imagery collectors "do not talk to each other," meaning operators must fuse the data manually. Ramis, however, is developed specifically to allow for automated cueing of imagery sensors once an operator selects a sigint or comint return of interest. The goal is to decrease the time to identify and validate a target, whether it is a search-and-rescue or combat mission.

The company has already demonstrated its Reconfigurable Airborne Multi-Intelligence System for a variety of customers, including Army acquisition secretary Heidi Shyu and foreign customers.

Boeing officials also showcased Ramis for media during a demonstration flight at Summit Aviation's facility in Middleton, Del., April 23. The market for such an aircraft – a Kingair 350 ER modified to carry multiple intelligence (multi-int) sensors – is at least 90 aircraft, says Mike Ferguson, Boeing’s business development lead for the program. The company plans to take its single Ramis demonstrator aircraft to the Canada Security conference in May but is unlikely to take it across the Atlantic Ocean for the Royal International Air Tattoo or Farnborough in the United Kingdom in July.

For the press demonstration, Boeing had outfitted the system with its own Argon ST Wasp signals intelligence/communications intelligence system, a Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared sensor ball and a CRI LodeStar wide-area-motion-imagery sensor (capable of collecting high-resolution images in rapid succession of a 10km X 10km swath of land). The sensors used for this demonstration were available for export; aircraft, operating systems and gimbals were all designed for rapid swapping of sensors, says Waldo Carmona, Boeing’s director of networked tactical ISR.

The aircraft and its available mods have also been certified by the FAA, Ferguson says.

The MX-15 was mounted on an elevator system into an extended nose on the platform. The WAMI camera was mounted in the gimbaled turret under the cockpit and Argon ST’s Wasp Comint sensor was fixed into the aft bay. There is also an “active sensor bay” under the midsection of the fuselage that is suitable for carrying a radar, hyperspectral or foliage penetration sensors. It was not used for this demonstration.

Iqbar notes that the forward and aft bays were designed to carry different sensors. The forward section could also host a wide-area imagery camera or a light detection and ranging sensor. The system was designed to accommodate sensor swaps in less than four hours.

For the demonstration at a Summit Aviation facility here, Boeing pilots geolocated a moving target using a push-to-talk radio. Onboard operators narrowed an ellipse of its probable location using the comint sensor. They then used the MX-15 and LodeStar to “get eyes on the target,” though clouds proved challenging. Carmona noted that in cloudy weather, the system could be fitted with a radar capable of collecting ground moving target indications and/or providing a synthetic aperture radar picture.

Ferguson was vague about sales. He cited “customers” but declined to identify them or discussion how many orders or commitments there are for a Ramis system.

The applications, however, are diverse. Customers could use such an aircraft for maritime patrol, border security or counter-drug operations as well as to support troops in combat.

The Ramis demonstrator has two operator seats with one extra. It can be used for a passenger for as a third sensor operator seat with a laptop-based workstation.

The aircraft is outfitted with a radome capable of accommodating a variety of satellite antennas, including those using Ka and Ku frequencies. It also is outfitted with a tactical common datalink aperture. These allow for delivery of specific data to dismounted soldiers on the ground if they have a handheld device capable of receiving the signal or via satellite to an intelligence operations center.

Ramis grew out of Boeing’s work developing the U.S. Army’s Enhanced Medium-Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System, also built on the KingAir 350. The Ramis demonstrator platform was also once used as the demonstrator platform for the secretive “Yellow Jacket” program managed by Boeing for an undisclosed customer. Officials simply say Yellow Jacket is different from Ramis because the former was  “point solution,” designed for a specific mission while Ramis is optimized for a variety of missions and sensors.

Though eyed in the near term for foreign sales, Boeing is also early in chasing an emerging Army requirement for a Multimission Airborne Multi-int aircraft to complement its Emarss fleet. Mami is included as a requirement in its 2020 vision plan.

Boeing says that the modifications for the green aircraft, which are delivered from Beechcraft’s final assembly facility in Wichita, Kan., can be done in several places in order to provide flexibility to customers.

Ramis is also designed to allow for up to level four control – including tasking of sensor and remote piloting – of unmanned Hunter and Shadow unmanned aerial aircraft from the operator stations, Carmona says.

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