Ran in The Weaponeer on 29 April 1999

ATARS successfully completes 'Alert 5' testing

China Lake, CA-The Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS) in development at the F/A-18 Advanced Weapons Laboratory is successfully progressing towards operational evaluation and eventual fleet release later this year.

Two Marine Corps F/A-18D aircraft are supporting the flight test program at China Lake. One aircraft is on loan from Marine Aircraft Group 31, MCAS Beaufort, S.C. The other test aircraft has been recently added to the flight test program from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, Marine Aircraft Group 11, MCAS Miramar, Calif.

On March 16 ATARS demonstrated the capability to provide imagery of a target more than 170 miles distant in less than 55 minutes from receipt of tasking. The tasking came via a radio call from SSgt. Quentin Harvey, an imagery analyst on loan to the F/A-18 Advanced Weapons Laboratory from Marine Aircraft Group - 31, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort. The ATARS flight crew was established in a "5-minute alert" posture when the tasking was received.

The crew flew their F/A-18D the 170 miles to the target, where the ATARS Mission Commander Capt. Michael Dukes gathered radar, electro-optical and infrared imagery. The flight lasted 36 minutes. Upon landing the two digital tapes were immediately removed and processed on the Squadron Ground Station allowing analysis, printing and storage of the collected imagery. The Marine imagery analyst had his requested imagery in less than one hour.

The Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System is a major advancement for Marine Aviation said officials. It returns to the Marine Corps an essential, survivable, reconnaissance asset which has been absent since the retirement of the RF-4B Phantom in 1990.