By James Drew

Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

Nov 30, 2017

From an article // http://aviationweek.com/awindefense/horizon-technologies-unveils-xpod-signals-snooping

 

Need to go fishing for pirates or smugglers? London-based Horizon Technologies has a signals
intelligence pod for that.

The creator of the FlyingFish airborne satellite monitoring system has partnered with helicopter
gun and sensor pod manufacturer Mace Aviation of Mesa, Arizona, to create the Xpod, which
converts aircraft into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and signals intelligence
(ISR/sigint) platforms.

Although advertised for the Lockheed Martin C-130, the unusual-looking pod attaches to the
hard point of any aircraft, including turboprops and armed crop dusters.

The reason for the Xpod’s long, tapered shape is to clear the trailing edge of the wing so that
the FlyingFish’s L-band antennas and GPS receiver have an unobscured line of sight to the
satellites above and communications terminals below, mostly satellite phones. At the front of the
pod is an L3 Wescam sensor ball, either the MX-20 or MX-15 electro-optical/infrared camera.
Xpod also has space inside for rechargeable batteries, so it can run without external power.

The first prototype should be ready for testing early next year, Horizon Technologies Director
John Beckner confirms. In an interview at the Association of Old Crows conference in
Washington Nov. 30, Beckner said with this pod, governments and militaries no longer need to
modify and recertify their aircraft to introduce advanced surveillance capabilities.

“You need an antenna looking up at the geosynchronous satellite systems, Inmarsat or Thuraya,
and looking down to pick up the handset,” he explains. “We find worldwide, many countries have
aircraft that would make perfect ISR/sigint platforms, like a Dornier Do 228, but they don’t know
who can modify their aircraft. They’d love to test FlyingFish, but if they have to drill holes for
antennas, who’ll certify that? That’s why we came up with Xpod, because it fits on a hard point
and doesn’t require changes to the aircraft structure.”

In an operational context, a C-130 crisscrossing the troubled Horn of Africa, or flying over waters
known for piracy and other nefarious activities, can now intercept satellite phone communications along the way and take a close look at the suspected user with the high-
definition daylight or infrared camera.

FlyingFish can intercept communications over the Inmarsat and Thuraya satellite constellations,
and also will soon be able to intercept the Iridium network.

The device carries an Automatic Identification System receiver, which allows it to identify local
maritime traffic and correlate a ship with the signal of interest.

Xpod can include Global System for Mobile Communications, or GSM, antennas to intercept
cellphone calls and others for VHF and UHF radio transmissions.

According to Beckner, the enabling technology for Xpod is the FlyingFish “Xtender,” which relays
signals from the antennas via datalink to the mission system and processor located inside the
aircraft or at a ground station. The Xtender was developed to allow small UAVs to pry into
satellite communications, such as the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle, AeroVironment Puma and
submarine-launched Blackwing. The FlyingFish box is too heavy for these platforms, so Xtender
connects it over a secure wireless network with a roll-on/roll-off crew station module in the back
of the aircraft or on the ground. The signals data is stored, and it is left up to the nations
themselves to decrypt and decipher the signals.

Beckner sees strong interest from the global C-130 Hercules community, and also hopes to go
on a lightweight surveillance and strike turboprop.

In terms of the FlyingFish Xtender product for UAVs, Beckner says Horizon Technologies hopes
to demonstrate it on the U.S. Marine CorpsBoeing Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack, since the Marines
have been looking for a small signals intelligence payload. The company also is seeing interest
from the U.S. Navy for the Blackwing.

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