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With every visitor to DSEI having to go through at least three separate security checks, attendees have every reason to feel completely safe once inside the show. Yet anyone who happened to wander past BAE Systems’ stand at the wrong moment this week could find themselves fearing for their lives, as a man in combat uniform appears to be completing the process of targeting DSEI venue ExCeL for annihilation by a salvo of guided bombs.

"In this scenario, we're planning to drop this building with PAVEWAY IV," says Tim Colebrooke, with surely far too jaunty an air. Colebrooke is an aircrew advisor for BAE Systems, specialising in fast-jet mission planning and is demonstrating the capabilities of SCEPTRE, a new system the company has developed for the Royal Air Force (RAF). SCEPTRE is a platform-agnostic mission planning system designed to be intuitive and easy to use. And, sure enough, with a few dabs of his fingertips on the tabletop touchscreen display, Colebrooke is able to designate the four corners of the exhibition centre as targets for a synchronised strike from a TYPHOON.

"TYPHOON can carry six PAVEWAY IVs, and it can drop four in the same attack," Colebrooke continues. "I can lasso the four together" - his fingertips sweep across the overhead imagery before he taps on a contextual menu - "so this is now one release."

Fortunately for all concerned, the strike mission Colebrooke is considering turns out to be rather more complicated. After looking at a 3D version of the overhead imagery, SCEPTRE reveals that some suspended cabling might interfere with the planned trajectory of the bombs; airspace danger zones will also require the jet to alter its proposed route to the Docklands area, while the unexpected appearance of a couple of SA-6 batteries in the vicinity of Barking mean the air crew will have to deploy some electronic countermeasures. "Nothing's ever that easy," Colebrooke says.

Clearly, nobody from BAE Systems is really going to launch an attack on DSEI - but SCEPTRE certainly appears to make planning such a complex operation pretty straightforward. The system also provides a powerful debrief capability, with cockpit and HUD (head-up display) video footage replayable, synchronised to real-time flight data, so making every aspect of a mission - from take-off through refuelling and weapon release right through to landing - available for post-flight analysis. The system can also ingest a daily Air Tasking Order and automatically generate routes and mission plans for every aircraft.

SCEPTRE is due to be operational with the RAF for TYPHOON in November. It is "the same core system" as the BAE-supplied CAGE (Combined Arms Gateway Environment) mission planner that has been in use on the WILDCAT and MERLIN helicopter fleets since 2015, says Colebrooke. "For modern platforms, essentially all you need is a document that tells you what you can manipulate in the cockpit," he adds. "We get that document, and the operating data manual to tell us the flight path of the aircraft under specific G. It will work with any platform if you've got those two ingredients."

Angus Batey

SCEPTRE uses both real and virtual technologies to make mission planning easier (Photo: BAE Systems)

- Mönch Publications - Latest Issues -

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