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Sensors Are a ‘Hidden Talent’ Worth Noticing

How is an unmanned aircraft like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model? Both are good at getting attention.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. actually makes more than aircraft, but its sister products — the sensors — labor away in obscurity. Which might not be fair, since these sisters do something very important: they help the people behind the flight make sense of the world around the aircraft.

One of these sister products is the Lynx Multi-Mode Radar.

It didn’t surprise me much that news about Lynx’s performance during a Navy exercise, which GA-ASI publicized in late August, was reported in only a few places. I guess it didn’t have the sizzle that editors want.

GA-ASI seemed eager to say, however, that the tests reveal that one of its unmanned aircraft, the Reaper, has a talent that before now went unappreciated. A Reaper equipped with a Lynx sensor could be an effective player in the Defense Department’s Air-Sea Battle Concept — a new approach to conflict which has gotten a lot of ink in the last few years.

GA-ASI announced Aug. 28 that Lynx performed well during U.S. Navy Exercise Spearhead IIA, held in June off the Florida Keys. The war games involved the Navy’s Joint High Speed Vessel, a fast aluminum catamaran longer than a football field. During the exercise, the airborne Lynx system was able to detect very small boats and mine-like objects. GA-ASI noted that software in the Lynx radar is also optimized to detect those weird hybrid subs used by drug-runners, which the Navy calls self-propelled, semi-submersible vessels.

For the tests, the radar was integrated into a King Air 350, a two-engine aircraft with a pilot. The King Air served as a stand-in for an unmanned Reaper. Data from the Lynx radar was fed wirelessly to intelligence analysts on the Navy ship.

GA-ASI offers a very technical discussion of how Lynx fit in with other Navy assets and electronics during the exercise on its website, www.ga-asi.com.

It will be interesting to see whether this gets the U.S. sea services any closer to putting Lynx-equipped Reapers into their budgets.

GA-ASI is part of General Atomics. The privately held company does not disclose revenue.

• • •

By the Numbers: Last year, the San Diego Military Advisory Council concluded that the Defense Department spent $24.6 billion in the San Diego area. That’s direct spending, not counting ripple effects.

What will it be this year?

The council plans to unveil its sixth annual military economic impact study later this month. SDMAC will do it during a lunch event set for Sept. 23.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Palmdale), outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has agreed to speak at the event, scheduled to run from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Adm. Kidd Conference Center, 33050 Acoustic Ave., on the grounds of the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center off North Harbor Drive in Point Loma.

McKeon has announced his retirement from Congress, so another high-ranking member of the House will take the reins of the Armed Services Committee after November’s elections.

The luncheon comes in addition to SDMAC’s regular monthly breakfast meeting, set this month for Sept. 17 from 7:30 to 9 a.m., also at the Adm. Kidd clubhouse. The breakfast speaker will be Vice Adm. Kenny Floyd, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, also based in San Diego.

Information on attending both events is available at http://bit.ly/1A2h1ZF.

• • •

One Hundred Thousand Hours: Aircraft from Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Global Hawk family of unmanned, high-altitude jets recently passed the 100,000-hour mark doing what they were built for: combat and related operational support.

Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) made the announcement on Aug. 27.

U.S. Air Force Global Hawks flew more than 88 percent of the hours, while the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance demonstrator flew the balance of the time. The Navy now calls that aircraft Triton.

Both programs are based at Northrop’s Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence in Rancho Bernardo. The defense contractor builds the aircraft at the U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale.

Flying 11 miles above a war zone, Global Hawk aircraft serve as spy planes or communications relays.

The military logs combat and operational support hours separately from flying hours that are not related to combat. Counting the time they flew outside of combat, the Global Hawk family of aircraft reached the 100,000 hour mark in September 2013.

Send San Diego defense industry news to bradg@sdbj.com.

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