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Raytheon has started flight trials of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) persistent close air support (PCAS) programme.

Launched in July 2010, the PCAS programme aims to develop software that could enable ground troops to receive close air support sooner through improved coordination among joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC), combat aircrews, airborne sensors and weapons.

Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice-president Tom Bussing said: "PCAS will help reduce close air support response times from as long as one hour to just six minutes.

"By delivering critical information to decision-makers more quickly, PCAS will save lives in the battlespace."

The programme is divided into two main components, namely PCAS-Air and PCAS-Ground.

PCAS-Air is equipped with an internal navigation system, weapons and engagement systems, and high-speed data transfer system. It is a plug-and-play system that can be fitted onto any aerial platform, including manned and unmanned aircraft.

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The system’s key element are automated algorithms that can recommend optimal travel routes to target, which weapons to use and how best to deploy it.

PCAS-Ground is a suite of technologies enabling improved mobility, situational awareness and communications for fire coordination.

"By delivering critical information to decision-makers more quickly, PCAS will save lives in the battlespace."

Undertaken at an undisclosed location, the testing is scheduled to highlight PCAS-air performance on an A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft and connectivity with the JTAC equipped with a PCAS-ground kit.

After completion of flight testing, Raytheon would provide PCAS system for integration with other aircraft and participation in other demonstrations.

Raytheon is the systems integrator for PCAS and is currently working on the third phase of PCAS programme as part of a $25.5m contract awarded by DARPA in February this year.

The 18-month effort is scheduled to culminate in live-fire demonstrations in 2015.

The company also leads an industry team comprised of Rockwell Collins, General Electric, BAE Systems and 5-D Systems.

Image: Raytheon’s flight tests would highlight PCAS-air performance on an A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft. Photo: courtesy of Jumping cheese.

Defence Technology