U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ashley Leroy and Staff Sgt. Coeda Bomar, 325th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controllers, perform their duties inside of a mobile, MSN-7 tower on the flight line at Tyndall AFB, Fla. on Jan. 18, 2019. The Air Force brought in the mobile tower after Hurricane Michael halted air operations at the base. Raytheon said its new mobile air traffic control system can be set up within eight hours notice (U.S. Air Force)
Air traffic control (ATC) challenges may abound in remote regions and areas hit by disasters. To address this problem, Raytheon is pitching its Deployable ATC Automation and Communications System (DAACS).
Mobile ATC systems, such as DAACS, may find a significant market for expeditionary military forces, as they do not rely on existing infrastructure and can use generator or shore power. Raytheon said that technicians can set up DAACS in eight hours or less.
In October 2018, Hurricane Michael, packing 170 mile per hour winds, destroyed Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida's panhandle. All 484 buildings on the base, including the air traffic control tower and the radar approach control (RAPCON) building, sustained significant damage. The RAPCON building lost its roof in the storm and suffered rain and wind damage, while the tower suffered catastrophic damage when the hurricane blew out several windows and left the tower's equipment inoperable.
The Air Force had to halt air operations at Tyndall. In the three months that followed, the service brought in one of its mobile towers, a Meteorological Shelter Navigation Model 7 (MSN-7) with Telegenix Inc. voice communications switching systems (VCSS), to help restore limited flights.
The Air Force started testing DAACS at Tyndall in March 2019 and used the system operationally there from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15 last year, said Scott Barbary, the director of air traffic systems surveillance for Raytheon Intelligence & Space.
"It just took a while for them [the Air Force] to decide to use DAACS and move it over there [to Tyndall]," Barbary said.
The fielding and testing of DAACS came under the Air Force's Deployable Radar Approach Control (D-RAPCON) contract with Raytheon for replacing the service's 1960s and 1970s-eraAN/TPN-19 and AN/MPN-14K mobile ATC systems with state-of-the-art digital systems. Congress funded $51 million for one D-RAPCON radar in fiscal 2019 and provided nearly $5.4 million for the program in fiscal 2020.
DAACS employs the Raytheon Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) used by all DoD air traffic controllers at 175 locations around the world, per Raytheon.
For future DAACS deployments, "the Air Force controllers and other controllers around the world that use STARS will see the same automation system that they use on a regular day basis," Barbary said.
Raytheon also builds another mobile ATC system, ATNAVICS, used by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army.
Unlike DAACS, which plugs into existing radar infrastructure, ATNAVICS comes with a mobile radar and uses a different automation system than STARS. The Marine Corps used ATNAVICS in humanitarian relief after Hurricane Haiyan in November 2013, Barbary said.
DAACS "can be used for humanitarian relief, civil unrest, acts of terrorism or other situations where civil or military air traffic control services are temporarily unavailable and can also support expeditionary military missions," per Raytheon.
DAACS comes in three, transportable, 20 foot ATC operations shelters – each with an ATC automation system, eight positions, VHF/UHF ground to air radios, a voice communication control system, and an information display system.
The Air Force has rebuilt the Tyndall air traffic control tower, which began operations in May last year.
Controllers at the base manage air operations for two 10,000 foot regular runways and a 7,000-foot runway for drone operations.