A-10C Pilots Will Get 3D-Audio to Increase Situational Awareness

Already used by Royal Danish Air Force F-16s, the 3D-audio will hone threat response times for America's favorite ground attack aircraft

The Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, now supported by Northrop Grumman, has been providing close air support to U.S. and allied ground forces for over 30 years. (Image source: Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Air Force  will equip between 150 and 200 Fairchild-Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II  combat aircraft with 3D-audio systems  developed by Terma A/S , a Lystrup, Denmark-based aerospace and defense firm. The Terma 3D-audio system will enhance pilot situational awareness by supplementing the A-10C cockpit control panel visual warning system with audible directional signals from within the pilot's helmet. The natural or "spatially separated" audio signals will be similar to what a human would hear when not wearing a conventional headset.

Terma’s 3D-audio system is already employed by the Royal Danish Air Force  on its Lockheed Martin  F-16 Fighting Falcon  fourth-generation multirole fighters and can alert pilots to a variety of imminent threats by collecting data from aircraft missile warning systems, radar warner receivers, laser warner systems, and small arms detection systems by sending processed audio to a stereo headset.

Terma is the first company in the world to develop and field 3D-audio technology to reduce pilot workload and enhance situational awareness. Initial studies in a cockpit environment comparison test showed that pilots perceived the direction of an approaching missile threat 1.5 seconds faster by using 3D-audio cuing compared to only using a cockpit panel-mounted display.

The system – which is accurate to within 15 degrees of source signal azimuth and elevation – can also provide terrain obstruction warnings and link display and auditory directional cues together.

In December 2017, the U.S. Air Force issued a request for information for a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) 3D-audio system in order to improve the spatial, battlespace, and situational awareness of its A-10C pilots. On November 5, 2018, Terma was awarded a sole-source Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to deliver the system.

The A-10, originally developed by Fairchild Republic to fill close air support, forward air control, and ground attack roles, is now supported by Northrop Grumman . The aircraft’s low-speed maneuverability, durability, system redundancy, and sizable munitions loadout resulted in it gaining notoriety as a hard-hitting “tank buster” during the Gulf War.

With airframe production ending in 1984, the A-10 is an aging aircraft – current airframes range from 35 to 40 years old. However, the A-10’s effectiveness has resulted in many politically contentious service life extensions and upgrades.

The latest A-10C designation denotes aircraft that have received “Precision Engagement” upgrades to the aircraft’s fire control system, electronic countermeasures, and targeting. More recent modifications include the addition of multifunction displays, high-speed satellite communication links, and increased external fuel tanks. In November 2011, the U.S. Air Force began "re-winging" or replacing wings on existing airframes as part of the A-10’s service life extension program (SLEP).

As of February 2016, analysts estimate modernized A-10C aircraft could operate to 2040 or beyond. With approximately 350 A-10 aircraft split between active U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard fleets, Terma's IDIQ contract may increase from original delivery numbers of 150 to 200 3D-audio systems.

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

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