Hanscom looks to modernize NCR defense system

A visual warning system, part of the current Enhanced Regional Situational Awareness, or ERSA system, monitors situational awareness in the national capital region

A visual warning system, part of the current Enhanced Regional Situational Awareness, or ERSA system, monitors situational awareness in the national capital region. A program management office at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., recently released a request for information to modernize the ERSA system. (Courtesy photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The National Capital Region-Integrated Air Defense System program management office here recently released a request for information to modernize systems that defend the NCR.

The NCR-IADS was created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to provide low-altitude, low-airspeed detection capabilities to defend against airborne threats to the NCR. The Hanscom-based program management office is responsible for maintaining and sustaining the system as a whole, in partnership with the U.S. Army.

“The NCR-IADS is a component in the defense of our capital region through the coordination, cooperation and collaboration of the United States Air Force and the United States Army,” said the NCR-IADS program manager, David Bowers. 

Angel Casaigne, the lead logistics manager for the NCR-IADS program, explained that the Air Force system is divided into three separate subsystems: the Enhanced Regional Situational Awareness system, the Joint Air Defense Operations Center suite system and the Forensics suite system. This modernization effort focuses on refreshing all of the cameras and lasers for the ERSA system, which acts as a visual warning for aircraft that enter into controlled airspace in the NCR.

“All aircraft without prior permission are excluded from being in the capital airspace,” said Bill Meskill, a chief senior engineer for the NCR-IADS program. “If you file a flight plan into the capital airspace, you’re told that if you are illuminated by very bright red and green lights you are to turn 180 degrees and leave.”

The ERSA system is currently operating with lasers that are original to the initial fielding in 2002. While the currently fielded system remains quite capable, modern, increased capabilities are now available, and Bowers said his team is looking to leverage the new technology.

“The cameras and lasers are quite old,” Meskill said, “It’s sort of like buying a PC now versus using one that you bought 12 years ago. The new one is just going to be a lot more capable.”

The RFI describes the specific requirements the program office is seeking for this refresh.

“There are increased capabilities in different camera systems that allow us to view targets, and we’ve asked that those be a requirement,” Casaigne said. “The cameras and lasers also need to be integrated, so there’s some coordination that needs to take place to make that happen.”

Additionally, the program management office is leveraging various rapid acquisition approaches and teaming up with the Defense Innovation Unit and the Air Force Research Lab to field the new capabilities, Bowers said.

“We’ve paired a very rapid acquisition strategy with an innovative fielding strategy, so we should be able to deliver this much faster,” he said.

Casaigne also noted that the innovative fielding strategy will enable the team to follow a non-traditional development process.

“The traditional Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System acquisition process was developed to field interoperable, resilient, and supportable weapon systems,” he said. “But an Other Transaction Authorities acquisition pathway allows us to reduce risk and cost, as well as accelerate a rapid prototype and fielding methodology.”

According to Casaigne, the OTA pathway will help the team avoid a lengthy process and ensure the new cameras and lasers are relevant and sustainable at the time of fielding.

“Anything that needs to be addressed with regards to logistics or training under an OTA may not necessarily be part of the first phase of development,” he said. “That’s something under this pathway that we’ll work together with vendors to complete as we work toward the technological solution in the interest of moving fast, so it’s a very different construct.”

Responses to this RFI are due today, and Bowers said his team is looking to perform the refresh in the near future.