NAVAIR provides troops with eye in the sky



Dec 21, 2005

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By Chuck Wagner

PEO(T) public affairs

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) was quick to answer the fleet’s request to install technology on F-14 Tomcats that gives boots on the ground an eye in the sky.

In early November, aviators serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom requested their Tomcats have the technology to download data to Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receivers (ROVER) - laptop computers that give troops the ability to view their surroundings from the aircraft’s point of view.

“When an aircrew establishes radio contact with troops on the ground, the first question they are asked is ‘are you ROVER download capable?’ That shows how important it is to them,” said Lt. Cmdr. Lee “Griz” Grubbs, class desk for NAVAIR’s F-14 program (PMA 241), Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.

Tomcat squadrons VF 31 and 213 are currently in the latter half of a six-month cruise aboard the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). It is the last deployment for the F-14 squadrons before they transition to the F/A-18 Super Hornet next year.

The F-14 program responded to the fleet request with an unprecedented push from requirement to real-world capability. The program had an obvious mandate to equip the aircraft early enough to make a difference on this last Tomcat deployment. Grubbs eyed another looming deadline he wanted to precede – the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq to determine the government’s president and prime minister.

Grubbs immediately gathered an engineering team from F-14 fleet support at Jacksonville, Fla. to draw up the conceptual design, and to draft a supply scheme to move the technology to the fleet and integrate it on the aircraft in short order.

In six weeks - a blink of an eye on the acquisition and development time scale - the program had moved from paper to installing the data transfer systems on Tomcats, even allowing several days for pilots to train with the technology before election day. The systems arrived on the carrier Dec. 10. The first ROVER download-equipped flight took place the next day.

“The team demonstrated NAVAIR’s capability at its best. We probably made a significant difference in theater. We may have had a direct impact on the overall peace that existed during the Iraqi elections,” said Grubbs.

The program lassoed help from several organizations to complete multiple tasks in parallel, which significantly hastened results. Randy Snyder led a team at Jacksonville conducting the engineering study. The Tomcat program at Patuxent River Naval Air Station pursued regulatory approvals such as a flight clearance and approval for an interim airframe change.

Initial ground testing on the system took place at Oceana Naval Air Station, Va., where a team installed the technology on a Tomcat parked at Oceana for disassembly. This testing resulted in some changes to the original engineering plans. Fleet support at Jacksonville also assembled connecting parts to the system so that requires a simple hook-up to Tomcats aboard the carrier. Navy and Northrop Grumman experts traveled with the systems to the carrier and showed aircraft maintainers how to properly integrate them onto the aircraft.

The data transfer system is an off-the-shelf product, which means it is commercially available for purchase. However, program officials discovered the Navy is in possession of the systems, which it frequently installs on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The systems are stored at Webster Field, only miles from the F-14 program office. With the data transfer systems at-hand, the schedule was shortened, and the cost substantially lowered.

The program has now equipped 22 Tomcats, with additional systems to spare. The upgrades to the Tomcat squadrons more than doubles the number of aircraft flying Operation Iraqi Freedom missions with the capability to download to ROVER.

“I saw tremendous teamwork and a sense that what they were doing would make a difference for the warfighter. Everyone contributed and everything happened just right. It was not about getting a pat on the back, or about the money, it was about taking pride. It was awesome!” said F-14 Program Manager Chris Frayser.

“This success is part of our team’s continuing contribution to the Navy-wide goal of delivering the right force, with the right readiness, and at the right cost,” said Rear Adm. David Venlet, Program Executive Officer for Tactical Aircraft Programs. Venlet oversees the efforts of PMA 241. “You’ll see much more of this as the Naval Aviation Enterprise continues to streamline development and procurement of the systems we send forward to our fleet warfighters.”

The Naval Aviation Enterprise is a partnership among Naval leadership to optimize processes that maintain current readiness while investing in future readiness.

The enterprise concept focuses Naval aviation on the single fleet-driven metric of producing aircraft ready for tasking at reduced cost.


An F-14 Tomcat of VF-213 deployed with the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt flies with a new data transfer system installed to its underside. (U.S. Navy photo)

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