HENSOLDT is at the forefront of operational support system development, and currently delivers the OPTARION support capability to the German armed forces for use on its heavy-lift, medium transport and attack helicopter fleets. The company is soon to begin field trials of an upgrade to this planning system, which will future-proof this capability for the German government for many years to come.
In its original form, the operational support facility – or Einsatzunterstützungsanlage (EUA) as it is known in German – has been operational for more than 20 years as ground support for the CH-53GA heavy lift, NH90 TTH medium transport, and Tiger attack helicopters.
With development having started in mid-2022, the improved EUA NT (new technology) version of this capability is to be trialled under operationally realistic conditions in mid-2024 in a newly designed two-shelter configuration.
OPTARION operational support
EUA NT is part of the HENSOLDT OPTARION operations support system product family that covers modular systems that not only aid mission planning, but also technical and logistics support and fleet management.
Mission planning and support is the main role for the EUA, using HENSOLDT’s OptaMission system module.
The system draws on detailed geo-information and intelligence information, the latter requiring good connectivity with intelligence, command and control, air traffic, meteorological, and similar networks to acquire the latest operational situation. The system is compatible with a wide range of standard links that span all domains.
Missions are planned in part by ground staff, with inputs from aircrew such as weapons, aircraft configuration and loads data. The speed of planning is accelerated by embedded algorithms that automatically generate routes for various required outcomes, such as fastest route, minimum risk path and the like.
Typically a mission plan can be created in less than 15 minutes. The system can create plans for multi-aircraft operations, and can also integrate with other systems as part of a larger force structure with multiple platform types. As well as basic route and threat information, the mission plan allows for weight and balance management, as well as managing data links.
Once completed, mission plans for individual platforms are loaded on to data transfer modules that are carried by the crew for loading into the aircraft’s mission computer.
Mission data can be updated inflight by the aircrew, or from the ground via the aircraft’s encrypted datalinks in the event of new intelligence or operational changes. The system enables the users to filter incoming data to just the information that is relevant to the aircrew and their mission. The system allows the ground station to follow the mission in near-real time, as well as recording it for debrief purposes.
As well as OptaMission, the OPTARION family also includes a module that provides technical and logistics support to optimise aircraft availability called OptaLog. This OptaLog module takes maintenance information from the helicopter and uses it to streamline maintenance, repairs and logistics, with a consequent saving on lifecycle costs aligned to the applicable ERP system.
Related is a fleet management aid, OptaFEP, which maintains a current picture of fleet status and location, allowing accurate enterprise resource planning in order to maximise availability. All modules can be cross-linked, and further interfaces and extensions can be accommodated by the modular architecture.
EUA ground stations can be located in a fixed building, but can also be contained in 20ft deployable shelters, for which the EUA NT programme will define the future configuration.
At its most basic level, a single shelter can be deployed, containing communications and computer hardware, and two workstations. A typical system, however, would comprise this shelter and another with six operator stations. For large-scale operations the system can be scaled up with further operator shelters adding up to 18 more workstations.
Although the OPTARION family is currently applied to certain German rotary-wing fleets, the system’s modularity allows it to be tailored for other types, including fixed-wing aircraft.
The new generation
In Bundeswehr service, the EUA has supported operational deployments in Afghanistan and Mali over the course of 10 years. Now the time has come for a technology refresh to take advantage of advances that will keep the system relevant in the future. Many of the improvements have been engineered in close cooperation with end users, drawing on their experiences in the field.
EUA NT introduces a host of advances and the renewal of various elements of the system’s architecture, with the aim of improving operational effectiveness and availability, as well as improving the economy of operation. A key factor is the improvement of information technology availability to at least 99.99 percent; thus the new architecture includes a multi-server setup.
Networking is another area that has been improved, with the process of establishing connections to other EUA instances as well as external networks made much simpler, with a consequent reduction in workload for operators. Similarly, the system has numerous cyber-security improvements applied to maintain compliance with NATO Secret requirements.
Additionally, the radio architecture was modularised so that the integration of additional bands and channels is significantly simplified, and separate dislocation of radio modules with antennas and the EUA itself is enabled.
Power generators are now integrated in every deployable shelter so that they require no external power, in turn allowing them to operate as a stand-alone system, even mounted on a vehicle and in very cold areas.
Internally, the shelters have numerous ergonomic improvements applied, many driven by user experience. One of the main changes is the installation of specifically designed workplace consoles. The workstations are now based on removable laptops, which allow operators to easily move away from the station and outside of the shelter if required.
HENSOLDT’s long experience in the field of operational support systems places it at the forefront of this crucial sector, underlined by the EUA’s record in real-world operations. The next-generation NT system update ensures that the company remains fully capable of answering mission support requirements with state-of-the-art technologies, as well as capabilities for both new and existing fleets.