Spy planes get upgrades

New computers and software installed this month in the Air Force's U-2 reconnaissance planes will enable faster processing of complex mission-planning applications, service officials said.

The high-altitude, single-seat U-2 collects photographic, electro-optic, infrared and radar imagery. A U-2 can conduct up to 500 data-collection missions during a single flight, so keeping its automated mission-planning capabilities up-to-date is a priority.

At the heart of the upgrade is the Mission Planning System V (MPS-V), which produces hardcopy charts and documents for the pilot while enabling a ground-based crew to plan missions in about a quarter of the time it now takes.

The Unix-based system includes a 440 MHz processor module, 512M RAM and 118 gigabytes of storage. It is the first version of MPS to use a 20-inch flat panel LCD color monitor. Early versions of the MPS required multiple shipping pallets for deployment, but MPS-V fits into a rugged transit case and weighs about 70 pounds, according to Lt. Col. Christopher King, the MPS program manager.

Using MPS-V, a ground-based navigator receives information about the route and the collection plan for the radar and electro-optical sensors. The navigator uses the software to complete the plan and create a data-transfer disk so that the mission can be loaded onto the aircraft's flight computer.

The upgrades, which will cost about $1.2 million, "represent dramatic performance improvements," King said. "The MPS-V running the latest mission planning software operates at 19 times the speed of systems used in 1995."

The MPS-V unit is made by Rugged Portable Systems, a division of Secure Communication Systems Inc., Santa Ana, Calif.

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