Hornet Hyperlink 9.29.99

The U.S. Navy's chief acquisition officer has approved low rate initial production three (LRIP3) of the Advanced Tactical Air Reconnaissance System (ATARS) for the Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet fleet.

The details of the deal are being worked out between the USMC and Lockheed Martin/Fairchild, which makes the internally mounted system. It was used for the first time (as previously reported by the TEAM HORNET) during the NATO air campaign Operation Allied Force over Yugoslavia.

Pilots use ATARS to collect intelligence on two 45-minute digital tapes that can be reviewed after they return to base, where the images are sent to other ground centers for processing. Eventually, the system will datalink images back to base while in flight.

The United States Marine Corps plans to buy ATARS for its F/A-18D squadrons. Operational evaluation began on the system during Operation Allied Force, when testers deployed with the system to collect data during the real-world contingency. Formal testing will commence early next year, with a passing grade expected to move the system into full rate production.

"This is another capability that will continue to make the Hornet the world’s premier strike/fighter," a program team member said in an e-mail announcing the LRIP decision. "It can now not only deliver its lethal arsenal of weapons, but it can also take pictures of the target it has just destroyed." This enhanced capability was showcased and demonstrated in Kosovo.