The Raytheon-built Joint Precision Approach and Landing Systems, or JPALS, is a GPS-based system that triangulates between an aircraft and pieces of hardware on a ship or landing zone to create a cyber link as far as 200 nautical miles out.
The shipboard software can interact with the plane to assist in landings and navigate through challenges that might render other aircraft unable to operate, such as severe weather or an environment in which communications are jammed.
JPALS capability is embedded in all three F-35 variants as part of the Joint Strike Fighter’s 3F software block, although the Air Force has not opted to pursue the capability for its F-35A conventional landing variant.
By 2018, the Navy plans to install JPALS hardware on two amphibious assault ships, the Essex and the Wasp, just in time for the ships to depart on ocean deployments with a contingent of F-35s aboard for the first time.
Meanwhile, Raytheon is eyeing its next potential customer.
“The Osprey, it’s in their requirements that they want to make that happen,” Bob Delorge, Raytheon’s vice president for Transportation and Support services, told Military.com in an interview here at the Paris Air Show on Tuesday. “It makes a lot of sense in terms of the Marines. We’re looking at where do you go now from an expeditionary point of view, how do you get that on board.”
The V-22 is unique among rotorcraft in that it can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane. But even if its landing capabilities give it more flexibility than tailhook aircraft when it comes to touching down on ships, the process can still be improved by adding the automation and linking that JPALS provides, Delorge said.
“Helicopters still come in, they’re coming off the deck, same weather conditions and, typically, they’re coming off the deck and coasting over,” Delorge said. “And even though you say, ‘OK, it can coast in, it still can be pretty treacherous on a moving deck. We’re giving them the capability to effectively get to a point that’s 200 feet above the deck.”
To accommodate JPALS for Ospreys, which take off and land on amphibious ships, Delorge said Raytheon is working to shrink down the hardware the system requires. Today, that’s about four cabinets’ worth of computer equipment, plus dinner plate-sized GPS devices.
“You can probably shrink down to something smaller, try to get expeditionary with the Marines,” he said.
If the Marine Corps or the Navy pursues JPALS for Ospreys, fielding would still likely be years out, Delorge said. But the Osprey isn’t the only aircraft Raytheon has in its sights for JPALS. The company is also hoping to attract international buyers.
“The conversations that we have had with the Navy is, how do we now start thinking about international,” Delorge said. “When you talk to the captain, a big part of what he’s thinking through is interoperability. There are very few missions where the U.S. is operating by itself. As you put out F-35s, you want to ensure you have that interoperability.”