SA to export aviation software?


ATE gets design authority to upgrade the BAE Systems Hawk.Advanced Technologies & Engineering (ATE) is on the cusp of exporting the most advanced avionics software ever developed in SA, the company says.

The programming, along with the associated hardware, cost about $100 million to research, develop and certify to exacting aviation standards and can be retrofitted to hundreds of BAE Systems Hawk light fighter aircraft in the world today.

Additionally, the software and avionics can be readily adapted for other aircraft types, meaning the country stands to gain millions by successfully exporting the technology.

The software, which ATE Hawk program manager Dirk de Villiers says runs to over a million lines of code, is certified to the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics` DO-178B global standard, used by the US Federal Aviation Authority to certify software for use in aircraft.

De Villiers adds the software and associated hardware has been successfully integrated and brought into service aboard the SA Air Force`s (SAAF`s) BAE Systems Mk120 Hawk lead-in fighter trainers. About 900 Hawks of various marks are flying with 18 air forces and older variants provide a ready market for ATE`s integrated navigation and weapons systems (INWS).

Armscor Hawk programme manager Johan Ferreira says the system is the first time the country has achieved such a high level of integration and certification. “The avionics in this aircraft are the most complex developed in this country. This is also the first time that I`m aware of, that we have certified avionics to the DO-178B standard.”

Selling the avionics as an upgrade abroad will benefit both the government – which owns some of the intellectual property rights – and the defence industry, says Ferreira and ATE external affairs director Lorris Duncker.

Ferreira adds that exports will allow ATE and the consortium it led to develop and build the INWS to maintain design authority.

“This is a capacity we must maintain, we need to market the programme. A contract for ATE as a systems house is a contract for industry at large.”

In development

The software was delivered in three tranches, with an initial version, called Operational Capability (OC) 1, delivered in 2006 offering basic flight functions. OC1 was used to test the aircraft and bring it into operational service with 85 Combat Flying School. OC2 followed in 2007 and allowed pilot training to commence. OC3 followed and allows the aircraft to engage in combat and advanced training.

Duncker says the software was developed on the back of more than a decade`s experience. “It started in 1992, when ATE was selected for the SAAF`s Project Neckwar, the development of a Glass Cockpit Avionics Demonstrator using a Mirage F1 as platform.

“In 1994, ATE was selected for the development of the glass cockpit for the Pilatus PC-7 MkII [Astra] trainer for the SAAF. This gave ATE the expertise base to team up with Thomson-CSF (now Thales), to be selected for the upgrade of the navigation and weapons system for the Mirage F1 of the Spanish Air Force,” Duncker adds.

“With bombing algorithms developed within ATE, the upgraded Mirage F1 did not only serve as gap filler while awaiting the Eurofighter, but demonstrated bombing accuracies equivalent to the best in the western world.”

“These local and international projects cemented a local expertise level that brought the Hawk software development from an initial high risk profile to a success for ATE and the local defence industry,” says Duncker.

Future developments

The avionics hardware and software developed for the Hawk can also be put to use elsewhere in SAAF`s inventory. The SAAF is about to decide on upgrading the Astra cockpit and industry players speculate the work will go to the aircraft`s Swiss manufacturer.

“The initial instruction to the Hawk Navigation and Weapons System Programme was to ‘Gripenise the Hawk` so as to have a seamless transition between training from Hawk to Gripen,” says De Villiers. (The Gripen is the Air Force`s new Advanced Light Fighter Aircraft.)

“Now the message that industry conveys to Armscor is to ‘Hawkenise the Pilatus`, so as to achieve commonality between avionics of the Hawk and Pilatus Aircraft. This would be in preference to procuring a new system, distinctly different to Hawk,” De Villiers says.

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