Any military aviator can tell you landing on an aircraft carrier is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Especially when the wind is howling, the waves are surging and the ship is pitching.
“It requires extreme levels of concentration, skill, luck and a little bit of fear,” said Brooks Cleveland, a retired U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot and senior aviation adviser with Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “At best, without precision approach guidance, you have to be on your ‘A’ game as a pilot, but even that sometimes isn’t enough.”
That’s where RI&S’ Joint Precision Approach and Landing System can help.
JPALS guides aircraft onto carriers and amphibious assault ships in all weather and surface conditions by using high-integrity GPS navigation. Its anti-jam encrypted datalink helps the aircraft communicate securely with an array of GPS sensors, antennas and shipboard equipment. Without JPALS, landing on an aircraft carrier in rough seas or with low visibility is extremely challenging; potentially impossible.
“JPALS can help get aircrews on the deck safely,” said CJ Jaynes, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and executive technical adviser for JPALS with RI&S. “The system is precise, down to centimeters.”
JPALS was recently deployed for the first time on two international aircraft carriers: the Italian ITS Cavour and the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth. Both deployment tests were successful, and the inclusion of JPALS supports both navies to safely land their F-35s on deck in even the most severe conditions.
The U.S. Marine Corps will be performing joint exercises with the UK’s Royal Navy on the HMS Queen Elizabeth for a year.
“The U.S. Navy worked with the Royal Navy to ensure JPALS was installed on the HMS Queen Elizabeth before the start of the deployment for joint exercises,” said Mark Maselli, RI&S program manager for JPALS.
Ship-based JPALS expands mission availability and operational capability across the globe. Access to a landing system with up to 99.9% reliability enables more frequent and even longer missions, regardless of location or weather conditions. The system uses globally available GPS satellite data –even in the equatorial region and near Antarctica.
“With the number of safety redundancies in place, JPALS is designed to help bring pilots all the way down to a successful landing,” said Marcelo Cavalcanti, RI&S business development director for JPALS. “The system provides continuous coverage.”
That continuous coverage and access to a safe landing in zero visibility and the harshest weather conditions in use by Italy and the UK reflects an unprecedented interoperability between allied forces, according to Mark Maselli, program manager for JPALS.
“This could be a common landing system for allied forces with F-35s or other aircraft equipped with JPALS,” said Maselli. “They would have the full operational ability of JPALS to perform joint exercises or even support an aircraft in an emergency.”
The possibilities for joint activity don’t end on the high seas: eJPALS is the expeditionary version of JPALS. The system can be set up and operational in remote locations and inhospitable terrain in less than 90 minutes. It provides the same type of precise guided landing in zero-visibility situations on land, such as swirling dust or on temporary runways.
“eJPALS offers multiple touchdown points and a lot more flexibility,” said Jaynes. “The system supports multiple aircraft at a time and can be used for missions that move from sea to land and back again.”
Ship-based and expeditionary JPALS can open new possibilities for Collaboration across U.S. and allied service branches. Major exercises that engage multiple types of aircraft, winged and rotary, can be more easily executed. The system’s redundancies and data integrity offer robust capability for safer landings, Jaynes said.
“No matter where they’re going or in which conditions, the pilot and aircraft are going to make it back safely,” she said.