When air traffic controllers need to be rapidly deployed to an airfield, as they do in emergency situations, sometimes the only way to track aircraft movement is through maps, pen and paper. 

But this manual method could be a thing of the past thanks to a new air traffic awareness prototype designed in just three months. 

The Deployable Air Traffic Awareness (DATA) system is a small, rapidly deployable and self-supported kit that provides immediate air traffic awareness to air traffic controllers. DATA can be used in situations where the full capability of larger systems is either not immediately available or has been destroyed, as happens during natural disasters. 

Flight Commander Squadron Leader Daniel Lee-Hagan from No. 44 Wing took the prototype out into the field and said he was impressed with its capabilities. 

“Our current deployable air traffic control systems consist of a transportable tower and a radar system, which are quite large and require heavy vehicles or aircraft to transport,” he said. 

“With this new system, we can set up the kit in less than 10 minutes and have the ability to see aircraft on a screen in real time, which allows a lot safer control of the airspace.

“The technology doesn’t rely on an Internet connection and can be transported in a small vehicle or helicopter, so I can see this equipment being rolled out in search and rescue operations, disaster relief operations and on exercises.”

The idea stemmed from a Jericho Disruptive Innovation project looking at a distributed networked sensor grid. 

Air Commodore Wendy Blyth recognised the potential to fill a current gap in an immediate air traffic awareness capability. Jericho delivered a prototype in only three months, working closely with industry partner Sigma Bravo. 

“The addition of this new system will enable Air Force greater flexibility to immediately deploy air traffic management capability to the mission at hand,” Air Commodore Blyth said.

Sigma Bravo worked to deliver the deployable air traffic awareness system by taking a range of sensors and combining them with smart IT to provide a common operating picture in areas where there is no other air traffic management. 

Wing Commander Paul Hay from Jericho Disruptive Innovation said the partnership with Sigma Bravo meant they could get the technology introduced quickly and effectively. 

“It's vital for Jericho Disruptive Innovation to have the ability to work with Australian small and medium enterprises. These small companies provide a fantastic service to us. They provide agility and have consistently demonstrated the ability to deliver high end products quickly,” Wing Commander Hay said.

Sigma Bravo’s Managing Director Tim Wedding agrees that the key to success are speed, agility and working closely with the end users of the product.

“The key to success for small enterprise is our ability to deliver context-based solutions with great agility enabling us to deliver what the Air Force needs quickly,” Mr Wedding said.

After the training in Canberra, the DATA System prototype was deployed at RAAF Base Scherger during Operation Talisman Sabre. 

Flight Lieutenant Alexander Heron, an air traffic controller with No. 452 Squadron said the system was able to be easily integrated into the Tactical Air Operations Tower to provide air traffic services. 

“The system allowed us to monitor the location of nearby civil and military aircraft without a radar. Additionally, the overlaying of this data on aeronautical maps greatly augmented our situational awareness,” he said.

The next step in the process is to test the prototype across a number of use cases and then rapidly modify and update the system.