ABOARD USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (NNS) -- As F-14 Tomcat aircraft 207 of the "Blacklions" of Fighter Squadron (VF) 213 launched the morning of Dec. 11, history was made.
For the first time, a forward ground controller, with the call sign of "Antidote," located on the ground near Baghdad, was invited "into" the cockpit of the aircraft via the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) system.
"The new system allows forward ground controllers to see what the aircraft is seeing in real time," said Lt. j.g. Will Parish, radar interceptor officer. "There is no time delay in the system."
ROVER allowed Antidote to see real-time images acquired by the aircraft's sensors by transmitting the images to his laptop. Usage of ROVER greatly improved Antidote's reconnaissance and target identification, which are essential to the combat air support mission in Iraq.
The development team arrived aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Dec. 10 to install the first ROVER systems onto the Tomcats. The squadron maintainers are quickly learning the modification process, providing both VF-213 and VF-31 with complete ROVER capability within a few days.
ROVER upgrades to Carrier Air Wing 8 Tomcats will more than double the number of aircraft flying Operation Iraqi Freedom missions with this unique capability.
Before ROVER capability, ground controllers had to rely on "visual talk-ons" to hunt for IEDs, track insurgents or follow suspicious vehicles. The ground controller would have a map he used to guide the pilots where they needed to go.
"The ground controllers are excited because it eliminates talk-ons," said Parish. "It gives them a lot more confidence when making decisions such as dropping bombs, because they have the same real-time bird's eye view as [the pilots] do."
A joint VF-31/VF-213 investigation revealed that it would be possible to modify the F-14D Tomcat with off-the-shelf technology for a mere $800 per aircraft.
A team of F-14D experts from the PMA-241 staff at Naval Air Station Paxtuxet River, Md., was presented with this idea in early November, and were able to research, develop, and field this technology within a six-week window.
Grumman employees from Naval Air Station Oceana and members of the fleet support team from Naval Air Systems Command Depot (NADEP) Jacksonville were assembled to perform the aircraft modification.
"Technology makes us more viable because we have a tool other platforms don't have," said Parish. "ROVER gives us the advantage because ground controllers now prefer us."
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