US Navy Poseidon tests RFCM prototype

A US Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20 (VX-20) P-8A Poseidon has successfully completed an airworthiness test of a pod-mounted radio frequency countermeasure (RFCM) prototype at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Atlantic Test Ranges.

Details were revealed by US Naval Air Systems Command on April 9, although the test had taken place the previous month, on March 12. The first-of-its-kind radio frequency defense decoy could allow the P-8A to thwart enemy radio frequency missile attacks.

Capt Eric Gardner, programme manager for the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft Program Office (PMA-290), said: “This has the potential to be a game-changer for protecting the warfighter. We continue to look for ways to enhance capabilities that allow the fleet to be successful.”

P-8A RFCM [US Navy]
The new pod-mounted radio frequency countermeasures system being installed on VX-20 P-8A Poseidon - serial 167953 ‘953’ - at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, on March 12 prior to the airworthiness test over the NAWCAD Atlantic Test Ranges. US Navy

Getting the pod into testing, in just over a year, took a complete team effort. Constantly looking for upgrades to the P-8A, PMA-290 set out to find a solution to a potential threat from surface-to-air radio frequency missiles. Outlining their needs and running lead on the project, PMA-290 brought in the Advanced Tactical Aircraft Protection Systems Program Office (PMA-272), the Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation & Demonstration (RPED) team and the NAWCAD Aircraft Prototype Systems Division (APSD) to get the ball rolling.

The RPED team supported APSD in designing the RFCM pod, which integrated the proven AN/ALE-55 Fiber Optic Towed Decoy from PMA-272 into a shell. The team developed the shell design based on the certified AGM-84 Harpoon missile and then incorporated unique tracks and housing to fit and deploy the decoy.

By employing the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition’s delegation of other transactions authority (OTA) for prototype projects, PMA-290 and NAWCAD were able to complete a one-of-a-kind contract with BAE Systems to develop the RFCM pod’s additional internal equipment suite.

The OTA, a non-Federal Acquisition Regulation contracting approach, could potentially allow this critical self-protection technology to transition from prototype to fleet capability in much less time than a traditional effort. APSD and BAE made use of the established AN/ALE-55 electrical design to accommodate the suite’s installation.

P-8A Poseidon [US ANG/Airman 1st Class Tiffany A Emery]
The Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft entered operational service with the US Navy in March 2012. US ANG/Airman 1st Class Tiffany A Emery

Michael Hansell, the leading APSD engineer for the project, said: “A lot of the challenge and effort went into designing, to our best estimates, for what BAE was expected to put in the pod. We had to adapt and redesign rapidly. We worked as fast as possible to support PMA-290 and RPED to make sure we could pivot and adjust to meet established timelines.”

Constant tweaks were needed as the teams continued to hone-in on a capable design. The Naval Innovative Science & Engineering (NISE) programme funded the project, which provided the means to conceptualize, prototype, build and test this new capability for the Navy. This funding accelerated the design and manufacturing cycle for the prototype to just under six months.

The expedited developmental process supports the rapid prototyping of new and developing technologies and provides the resources to find solutions and incorporate improvements to fill capability gaps in the fleet faster. The teams were also able to utilize PMA-272’s F/A-18 lab equipment to speed up the timeline.

Following the test, the pod went to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, where it successfully completed effectiveness testing from March 21-26. It will now continue to be tested at a system level leading to platform integration through planned capability fielding phases.