ROVER Sics TacAir on Enemies
“ROVER” (Remote Operational Video Enhanced Receiver) is an unimpressive piece of equipment. Mostly, it looks like a ruggedized laptop with antennas. But SpaceWar.com quotes Lt. Col. Gregory E. Harbin, of the 609th Combat Operations Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, SC, who says “…the ROVER is bringing a phenomenal capability to our people on the ground.” ROVER is the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver, which receives camera images from nearby aircraft and UAVs (somewhat like Israel’s wrist-mounted V-RAMBO), then integrates them with other US positioning and targeting software.
Staff Sgt. Justin Cry, a Shaw Joint Tactical Air Controller (JTAC), has a job that’s an art form at the best of times. Describing features from the ground to a pilot looking down while flying at high speed is no easy task. According to a Dec 16/05 USAF article, he used the system in Iraq and in New Orleans, and says simply: “I can circle an area on my screen, drawing arrows for emphasis, and what I’m drawing appears on (the pilots’) screens as well.”
ROVER continues to evolve, and is becoming an unheralded but critical piece of equipment in America’s arsenal. This is DID’s FOCUS Article covering the system and its ongoing developments.
From X-Box to ROVER
Col. Harbin notes that many of the improvements came from “X-Box Generation” troops asking questions and making lists of things they wanted, but key groups within the Pentagon have also pushed the effort forward. Col. James G. “Snake” Clark, the troubleshooting Director of the US Air Force Combat Support Office, adds:
“We piped Predator video directly to the AC-130 gunship beginning in Operation Enduring Freedom. We also now can send Predator video to tactical air control parties on the ground equipped with the ROVER man-pack kit, a laptop computer with an omnidirectional antenna, so they can see what the Predator is looking at, as well as see the target location data that the Predator is producing.
We’ve also done operational testing of the Litening II targeting pod on an A-10 downlinking a freeze-frame image of the target it is looking at to the ROVER, so the ground control team can be certain that the pilot is going to attack the right target. We plan to add the same capability to the Sniper XR targeting pod.”
This kind of capability is a significant step up from previous options. In the January 2006 issue of Air Force Magazine, USAF Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, commander of 9th Air Force and US Central Command Air Forces, discussed the 2004 Battle of Fallujah and provided some illustrative stories:
“One of the things we found… hard was when you’re dealing with an urban environment; we’re looking from the ground, looking down. It was very, very hard sometimes to quickly get the pilot’s eyes exactly on the target that the JTAC (Joint Tactical Air Controller) and the ground commander were talking about. In all honesty, if you took an overhead picture of Fallujah and looked down, it’s a town full of literally flat brown roofs and a couple of mosques here and there… There’s one instance I can speak of in Fallujah where from the ground I looked up and I saw three different buildings. From the air, the roofs were all connected.”
“We went into this fight with everybody having the exact same map all the way down to the company commander up to the folks in the airplanes, and so now, believe it or not, it got to the point where people would say, “OK, do you see the ‘L’ in ‘Fallujah’ on the map? Go two blocks south from that, and that’s where I want to start from.” Because the first Fallujah going in, you may remember, we had to use the crossroads to the east [of the city as] the starting point. “You see the highway crossroads to the east? Yep. OK, now going from there, going west” – and you kind of follow yourself in and count streets and all that kind of thing. We were much better at it.”
The “Black Lions” of Navy Fighter squadron VF-213 also appreciated ROVER. A joint investigation with the VF-31 “Tomcatters” revealed that it would be possible to modify their F-14D Tomcats aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt [CVN 71] with off-the-shelf technology for a mere $800 per aircraft, in order to allow rover streaming. A team of F-14D experts from the PMA-241 staff at Naval Air Station Paxtuxet River, MD was presented with this idea in early November 2005, and were able to research, develop, and field this technology within a six-week window, giving the old F-14D “Bombcats” a new capability that kept them competitive with newer aircraft on their last operational deployment.
The focus of the OIF missions was primarily in support of coalition troops in direct contact with insurgents, convoy escorts and patrolling routes in search of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and supporting raids. As of their deployment’s half-way point in December 2005, VF-213 had already flown more than 281 sorties on this deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom, totaling more than 2,200 hours including 1,730 combat hours. At this rate, The Black Lions were outpacing all previous air wing squadrons in terms of number of both OIF sorties and combat hours flown. By that point, the Black Lions had dropped more than 5,000 pounds of ordnance and engaged insurgents on several occasions with precision bombs or strafing runs.
The ability of a high-end interceptor fighter to rack up those kinds of figures is a testament to the unit, and also to their new ROVER technology. The F-14 no longer serves with the US Navy – but ROVER still does.
ROVER 4 is a laptop-based receiver terminal, with an accompanying antenna and backpack radio. It supports Ku-band digital, C-band digital, C-band analog, S-band analog and L-band analog signals.
ROVER 5 and 5i (aka mROVER) are handheld computers and software-defined radios that can also transmit target data, support encryption up to Type 1, and have some compatibility with key datalink protocols like CDL. This is a lifesaver to troops on the ground, as the ability to digitally relay coordinates etc. dramatically lowers the speed of response, and also the possibility of human error or misperception in very stressful situations. ROVER 5 is publicly stated to work with Predator, Shadow and Dragon Eye UAVs, and with Northrop Grumman’s LITENING surveillance and targeting pod. 2010 contracts appear to add Lockheed Martin’s Sniper pod, and Raytheon’s ATFLIR pod, to that list.
ROVER 6 is an improved version of Rover 3 & 4 transceivers. While it can be and is carried in a backpack, its antenna, laptop, and large radio are more suited to Tactical Operations Centers, vehicles, and ships.
Overall, ROVER 6 features 5-band operation (C-, L-, S-, and Ku-bands, UHF), and 2 external receiver interfaces. ROVER 6 adds DDL Raven and CDL data links, making it compatible with tactical aircraft, targeting pods, and almost all UAVs. Triple DES, AES, Type 1 encryption adds security. Operational resiliency and reliability are improved by the ability to receive 2 different channels, in either of 2 different frequency bands, from a single data source.
ROVER: Contracts and Key Events
FY 2011 – 2013
Saudi Arabia; South Korea; ROVER 6; Net-T.
Unless otherwise noted, contracts are managed by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL; and issued to L-3 Communications System West in Salt Lake City, Utah.
This high priority developmental test began in October 2012 with the A-10Cs, F-16s, and F-15Es of the 40th Flight Test Squadron, along with some visiting B-1 bombers. Beyond testing key metrics like effective distances, bandwidth, etc., they wanted to be sure Net-T wouldn’t interfere with the LITENING and Sniper pods’ other functions: day/night surveillance, laser illumination and tracking, automatic target searching and tracking, and automated target reconnaissance. Fortunately, once the frequencies and data rates are configured, it’s just a 1-button push for the pilot to initiate transmit-in-Net-T mode.
The goal is to send the testing report to the USAF’s Precision Attack Systems Program Office at Wright Patterson AFB, OH by February 2013, to be followed by operational testing with the 53rd Wing – and hopefully by fielding on ATP-SEs in February 2014. Eglin AFB.
July 12/12: ROVER 6. L-3 Communications Systems West in Salt Lake City, UT a $26.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 580 ROVER 6 upgrade kits. ROVER 6 is an improved version of the ROVER III/4 backpackable radio & laptop systems.
Work will be performed in Salt Lake City, UT, with an estimated completion date of April 30/13. One bid was solicited, with one 1 received (W58RGZ-07-C-0209).
May 19/11: The USAF covers ROVER 5 changes from a Joint Tactical Air Controller’s perspective, as the USAF 607th Air Support Operations Group (ASOG) demonstrates it to some new customers – ROKAF personnel:
“Staff Sgt. Michael Hickey, assigned to the 607th ASOG, said nearly 35 pounds of gear has been replaced by a small, wearable computer and the hand-held Rover 5… “It allows us to transmit large amounts of data rapidly to the cockpit, where the pilots get visual representations of our targets… The aircraft have a visual representation of the ground situation and targeting data before they ever get into the target area… We will be able to send that information digitally, and it will go right into the aircraft systems… Our JTACs would be able to talk to [ROKAF] aircraft [with no language barrier], and our aircraft could talk with their JTACs.”
For the JTAC, replacing 35 pounds of gear with a wearable computer and ROVER 5 tablet is a big plus. Relaying the information once with digital equipment, rather than multiple times with radios, also cuts down on human error.
Dec 20/10: ROVER 6. A $32 million firm-fixed-price contract for 2,780 ROVER 6 antenna kits. Work will be performed in Salt Lake City, UT, with an estimated completion date of Jan 31/13. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W58RGZ-07-C-0209).
Dec 20/10: AH-1Ws – but not AH-1Zs. Flight International quotes H-1 upgrade program manager USMC Col. Harry Hewson, who discusses AH-1W Super Cobra upgrades that will give the Marines’ attack helicopters the ability to stream sensor video to ground TACs equipped with ROVER terminals. The newer AH-1Z Vipers, on the other hand, won’t have that capability at first.
Oct 20/10: Saudi Arabia. The US DSCA announces Saudi Arabia’s formal request for 84 new “F-15SA” fighters, upgrades for the RSAF’s 70 existing F-15S fighters to full F-15SA configuration, an array of advanced weapons to equip them, and long-term support that explicitly includes infrastructure and construction. The estimated cost is up to $29.432 billion.
The Saudi request includes 40 ROVER systems, and the request becomes a set of fighter contracts beginning in 2011. Read “2010-12 Saudi Shopping Spree: F-15s, Helicopters & More” for full coverage.
FY 2009 – 2010
Morocco, France, Australia.
Sept 13/10: Sniper pods. Lockheed Martin announces a $13 million contract to upgrade the Sniper ATP’s existing data link with an enhanced digital Compact Multi-band Data Link (CMDL), improving secure digital transmission of high definition imagery and metadata at extended ranges. CMDL communicates seamlessly with the fielded ROVER family of ground stations, including ROVER 5.
July 26/10: ATFLIR pods. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives an $11.5 million firm-fixed-price order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-05-G-0026) for 889 Rover data link kits, in support of engineering change proposal #6342 for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet‘s ATFLIR surveillance and targeting pod. Orders will be divided between the US Navy (837 kits, $9.76 million, 85%) and the Royal Australian Air Force (52 kits, $1.7 million, 15%).
The ATFLIR pod is actually a Raytheon product, but Boeing is the Super Hornet’s system integrator and manufacturer, which means that some new capabilities for ATLIR need to go through them. The RAAF has bought 24 F/A-18F Block II Super Hornets.
Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (70.5%); Spring Valley, CA (17.5%); Wallingford, CT (6.5%); Murphy, NC. (3.5%); and Van Nuys, CA (2%). Work is expected to be completed in July 2011. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract.
ATFLIR, incl. Australia
March 8/10: France announces that it has begun operations with the American ROVER remote video terminal feed system, in conjunction with its Harfang UAVs. The system allows troops to receive the video from the unmanned aircraft in real time. Aviation Week.
Nov 17/09: The French DGA procurement agency discusses its 2009 urgent operational projects, which include 25 ROVER systems installed in its Mirage 2000 fleet. Read “France’s Crash Programs Budget Doubled in 2009.”
Oct 9/09: A $20.7 million firm-fixed-price contract for 100 ROVER 4 systems and 309 ROVER 6 systems. Work is to be performed in Salt Lake City, UT, with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/10. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W58RGZ-07-C-0209).
Sept 9/09: The US DSCA announces Morocco’s formal request for F-16 C/D Block 50/52 aircraft support equipment and weapons, including 2 ROVER systems. The RMAF does end up buying the F-16s.
FY 2006 – 2009
Oct 9/08: A $26.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for ROVER systems. Work will be performed in Salt lake City, UT with estimated and completion date of Dec 30/09. One bid was solicited and one bid was received (W58RGZ-07-C-0209).
Aug 18/08: L-3 Communications System West in Salt Lake City, Utah received a $7.2 million firm-fixed price contract for E-ROVER systems. Work will be performed in Salt Lake City, UT and is expected to be complete by Oct. 31, 2008. One bid was solicited on June 4/08 by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-07-C-0209).
Sept 7/07: L-3 Communications System West in Salt Lake City, Utah received a $16.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for Enhanced ROVER III Systems. Work will be performed in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is expected to be complete by April 30, 2008. This was a sole source contract initiated on July 30, 2007 by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-07-C-0209).
Nov 13/06: ROVER III. L-3 Communications announces that it has begun the first customer shipments of its next-generation ROVER III data links, adding the ability to decode multiple subcarriers from L and C Band analog and C Band digital signals. This new capability also supports add-in software to decode the proprietary metadata transmitted on many Unmanned Aerial Sensor (UAS) platforms. The new ROVER III is the major component of the U.S. Army’s One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT). AAI’s One System was detailed in this DID coverage of the Shadow 200 UAV/UAS.
May 23/06: Sniper. Sniper XR Pods add ROVER Downlink to Troops. Lockheed Martin has received a U.S. Air Force cost-plus contract worth approximately $9 million to upgrade its sniper pods with video downlink capabilities to Man Pack Rover III ground-based receivers. Sniper pods are currently flying on the U.S. Air Force F-15Es and F-16s, are in developmental flight test on the A-10, and are being integrated on the B-1 bomber. Norway, Poland, and Singapore also fly the Sniper XR/ Pantera pods.
Date ???: Italy. The Italians are also using ROVER in conjunction with Predator UAVs.
Additional Readings & Sources
- L-3 Communications – ROVER III Receiver product data sheet [PDF]
- L-3 Communications – ROVER 4 Receiver product data sheet [PDF]
- L-3 Communications – ROVER 5 Handheld Transceiver product data sheet [PDF]
- US Marines – ROVER is being integrated with the USMC’s StrikeLink software [PDF], with early connectivity to/from LITENING pods before the program moves on to UAVs.
- DID – One for All: AAI Textron’s UAV Control System. Derived from ROVER.
- DID – Breaking Down UAV GCS Barriers.
- USAF (Dec 16/05) – ROVER Gives Joint Force New Vision. See also SpaceWar.com version (identical)
- Navy News Stand (Dec 14/05) – “Black Lions” Reach Halfway Point of Deployment
- DID Spotlight – One for All: AAI Textron’s UAV Control System. Includes the OneSystem Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT), a rugged tablet computer with ROVER built in to allow video streaming, annotation, etc.
- DID (March 16/05) – Dick Tracy Tech for UAVs: The V-RAMBO
- C4ISR Journal (Nov 1/04) – A snake’s-eye view: Interview with James G. “Snake” Clark, Director, US Air Force Combat Support Office
- Blackanthem Military News (Dec 15/03) – ROVER System Revolutionizes F-14′s Ground Support Capability
tags: !rover! roverlink