Air traffic control anywhere, anytime

Raytheon Intelligence & Space offers deployable air traffic control

When Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida panhandle in October 2018, the Category 4 storm pummeled Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City with sustained winds of 155 mph.

According to the Washington Post, “Every structure on the base was damaged, its airplane hangars shredded and largely roofless.”

Included in the storm’s devastation were Tyndall’s air traffic control and landing systems. It ripped the roof off the radar approach control facility, drenching it with rain and displacing equipment. It blew out windows in the control tower, causing severe damage to equipment and leaving it inoperable. The result: the base couldn’t launch or recover aircraft, and was forced to cease all air operations.

But flight operations weren’t down for long. As part of the overall recovery plan, Raytheon Intelligence & Space professionals working with 325th Operations Support Squadron Radar, Airfield and Weather Systems technicians were able to connect the base’s existing sensor and off-base infrastructure to an early version of RI&S’ Deployable ATC Automation and Communications System.

“We had a prototype of DAACS set up at Tyndall, plugged into the surrounding radar, and operational for two months providing approach and takeoff support while the base repaired its RAPCON facility,” said Tony Keane, an RI&S engineering fellow. “A natural disaster like Hurricane Michael is a perfect example of how DAACS can be used to rapidly provide air traffic control at a time of crisis.”

The newly launched DAACS can be deployed for humanitarian relief, civil unrest, acts of terrorism or other situations where civil or military air traffic control services are temporarily unavailable. It can provide interim mission support when a fixed ATC facility is scheduled to be out of service due to maintenance, modifications or upgrades. It can also be used for expeditionary military missions.

“If you look at the direction of the military; it’s moving away from counter-insurgency fighting, and they’re now preparing for peer-to-peer warfare,” said Greg Woods, RI&S air traffic control and surveillance strategy. “If the U.S. became engaged in a peer-to-peer conflict, DAACS can enhance the Air Force’s capability to be highly mobile and rapidly deployable by rapidly establishing air traffic control services virtually anywhere in the world.”

The system is housed in three 20-foot containers, and can be transported by air, truck or rail. A team of six can set the system up in eight hours, integrating with multiple sensor feeds and connecting to existing communications infrastructure to perform all the same air traffic control functions that a permanent structure provides. The operations shelter has four positions for four primary controllers, two assistants, a coordinator and a supervisor.

“DAACS was designed as a deployable version of the Department of Defense’s fixed ATC facilities and incorporates Raytheon Intelligence & Space’s Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System. All DOD controllers at 175 locations worldwide operate STARS, enabling a seamless transition from fixed facilities to DAACS without the need for further training,” said Scott Barbary, RI&S Air Traffic Systems Surveillance director. 

Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a business of Raytheon Technologies, has fielded other deployable air traffic control systems in the past, collecting real-world lessons learned and has incorporated those improvements into DAACS.

“It comes down to that it is highly deployable and very compact so you can get into and out of a contested theater or a situation, a natural disaster situation or a backup situation relatively easily,” Keane said. “It doesn't have a very big footprint. It’s interoperable with a large number of different types of sensors and radar types. And you can have aircraft taking off and landing within eight hours.”