Hawks take ATARS to next level

13 Mar 2009 | Sgt. Gina C. Rindt

Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 sent an F/A-18 Delta Hornet to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., Mar. 5 for a test and evaluation on the Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System datalink pod.

The ATARS is a system for acquiring images, data storage, and datalink. It has infrared and visible light sensors, two digital tape recorders, and a Reconnaissance Management System. ATARS is designed to fit in the nose of the F/A-18D in place of the nose gun.

It is designed to provide F/A-18D aircraft the capability to fulfill the airborne tactical reconnaissance role left open upon the retirement of the RF-4, an unarmed photographic reconnaissance aircraft.

“When a datalink pod is mounted on the centerline station of the aircraft, the digital datalink will transmit imagery and auxiliary data to a Marine Tactical Exploitation Group (TEG) based ashore,” said Capt. Dorliska Brown, a Weapons and Sensors Officer with VMFA(AW)-533.

Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, also known as the Hawks, volunteered for this test to further explore the combat capabilities of the ATARS datalink and it’s relevance in today’s operations.

“When I heard that a volunteer was needed for the test and evaluation I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of something that will make a big difference in the long run with the F/A-18D’s,” said Lt. Col. James Quinn, VMFA(AW)-533 commanding officer. “This technology is a great opportunity for the TEG and the ground units because they can be more informed and prepared for the mission at hand.”

For the exercise, the Hawks sent three Marines from the squadron’s Avionics Division to help with the process and be trained to fix any maintenance issues that may come up.

“The datalink is something I feel should be taught to our Marines more than once a year, because it’s a good learning experience to work on another part of our aircraft,” said Cpl. Aaron Roberts, an avionics Marine with VMFA(AW)-533. “I believe it could be very helpful for the ground units who need the imagery in a hurry.”

With the end result being the Weapons System Officer and pilot will be able to transmit almost real time imagery, the capabilities of the F/A-18D are increased.

“This part of the F/A-18D will require a large amount of cooperation with Boeing and the engineers,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Elijah Buchanan, the VMFA(AW)-533 Avionics Division officer.

During a portion of the test and evaluation, Capt. Douglas Shores, a pilot with the squadron, made sure to get the jet in the right position for the best pictures and the weapons system officer got the required photos and send them to the TEG for analysis.

“The unique opportunity is important and has shown sending almost real time imagery is possible in earlier tests,” Brown explained. “Another important part in this process, is the aircraft sending the imagery to the TEG and having another F/A-18 flying right there with them and will be able to drop ordnance if needed.”

“We will be more informed on the details when we arrive, but we are expecting to take photos of many different targets in order to test the system properly,” Brown added. “I am looking forward to the experience and the chance to be a part of this system coming to another stage in development.”

This exercise is just another part of the F/A-18D showing the air wing community that it is possible to send clear real time imagery to ground units.

It is a very unique and important part of the F/A-18D and hopefully will stay around for a long time and be incorporated into another aircraft when necessary, Quinn said.