Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2020-05-03

The ATR 72MP: Guardian of the Seas

ATR 72MP is Italian Air Force’s preferred partner to perform essential search and rescue operations while preventing and contrasting illegal activities at sea. In service also with the Guardia di Finanza (Italian custom police), this formidable surveillance and patrolling tool is equipped with cutting-edge mission systems and sensors as we explore in this article. 
 
A Multirole Platform
Combining the reliability, maintainability, low life-cycle costs and high crew comfort levels of the commercial ATR 72-600 regional aircraft, the ATR 72MP is a multi-role aircraft now in service with the Italian Air Force and the Guardia di Finanza (Italian custom police). 
 
Built by ATR (joint venture between Leonardo and Airbus) and equipped and customised by Leonardo, the ATR 72MP offers a state-of-the-art mission system, advanced sensors and a complete communication suite to create an effective and affordable force multiplier. Its excellent Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) platform also retains ample growth capability.
 
The basic mission portfolio of the ATR 72MP includes the full range of military maritime surveillance tasks: monitoring sea lanes; fisheries protection; Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) patrol; Search And Rescue (SAR); and the prevention/contrast of activities such as piracy, smuggling, drugs trafficking and illegal immigration. This aircraft can also act as a flying command post for the in-flight management of complex airborne missions for multiple air and naval assets, doubling as a capable personnel transport asset in case of emergency. 
 
By adding optional subsystems and equipment, the ATR 72MP can also become an effective ELectronic INTelligence (ELINT) platform. Moreover, it can, when necessary, become a machine capable of airdropping rescue boats or parachuting skilled operators thanks to an in-flight operable door.
 
A Modular Mission System 
The core of the ATR 72MP’s mission suite is its modular ATOS (Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance) mission  system. Designed and manufactured by Leonardo, ATOS brings together and fuses data from the various sensors carried by the aircraft to provide a clear and easily understandable situational picture for operators.
 
Additional features of ATOS mission management system include the following assets: real time collection and handling of the mission sensors data; mission sensors control and automatic aiming of electro optical sensors; Flight Plan Management; and Interoperability with NATO and National assets through STANAG implementation. In turn, ATOS is fully cyber-security compliant. 
 
The ATOS system adopts a state-of-the-art human machine interface improving the user experience and reducing the operator workload. With more than 60 operative systems around the world, ATOS has been enhanced over the years to meet the new requirements and needs of many international customers. 
 
ATOS has a suite of mission sensors and other mission equipment tailored to meet the specific operational needs of each end user, including options for Leonardo, third parties or GFE Mission Sensors and Equipment. In addition, thanks to its advanced man-machine interface, only two system operators are required to make full use of ATOS in the standard aircraft configuration. 
 
Inside the ATR 72MP
The main sensor installed on the ATR 72MP is the Leonardo Seaspray 7300E Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) multimode radar, capable of performing long-range detection, tracking and identification of surface targets with 360° coverage. It also incorporates Track While Scan (TWS) and Moving Target Indicator (MTI) capabilities, air-to-air and weather modes, SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and ISAR (Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar) imaging modes. 
 
The radar is optimised to perform operations against sea-surface targets, so providing excellent tracking and simultaneous scanning capabilities. In addition, the “Moving Target Indicator” capability enables land monitoring.
 
Real time mapping of large areas is possible as well as snapshots of medium-sized fixed targets, such as buildings, through the “Synthetic Aperture Radar” mode. Meanwhile, the “Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar” mode is used to obtain profiles of naval targets and support target identification, but it can also be employed as a friend or foe interrogator with an automatic target classifier optionally coupled to the radar.
 
The electro-optical turret FLIR Systems’ Star Safire 380 HD includes various optical sensors, while the baseline payload of the turret features a high-definition colour TV camera, an advanced infra-red imaging system and a low-light TV camera to ensure the detection and identification of passive targets in any light condition. Laser devices such as a rangefinder, an illuminator and a designator can be incorporated optionally into the turret to provide further capabilities.
 
The ATR 72MP also has an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to locate and identify vessels equipped with AIS transponder along with an Airborne Search and Rescue System Direction Finder (ASARS DF). For the identification and localisation of any target equipped with the AIS transponder type, the automatic identification system allows a complete picture of the position and identity to be produced of the naval units in the area.
 
To accomplish search and rescue operations, the Direction Finder is capable of locating the direction of radio emitters in the frequency range mainly used for SAR missions (30-410 MHz). In addition to the IFF Transponder, the advanced digital cockpit is complemented by an ATR 72-600 avionics suite of the aircraft made up of two INS/GPS systems and a TACAN for navigation, along with a tactical display in the cockpit that provides pilots with mission system data.
 
The ATR 72MP communication suite includes three V/UHF radios and one HF radio, managed through an advanced internal communication system, while a wide band SATCOM system and a line-of-sight data link allow easy mission data exchange with cooperating assets and ground control centres. This suite can be expanded to meet the specific needs of the customer by adding, for instance, an additional radio (V/UHF or HF) or including specific data link types. 
 
The Best Solution for Crews
Thanks to its commercial ancestry, the ATR 72MP can guarantee crew comfort levels not usually afforded to military aircraft because ideal pressurisation and air conditioning is provided in every flight condition courtesy of the environmental control system. Meanwhile, the low internal noise levels and ergonomic seats all contribute towards reducing the workload and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the crew during patrol missions typically lasting more than 8 hours. 
 
Only a turboprop aircraft like the ATR 72 can guarantee such long endurance paired with the ability to fly at cruise speed to reach the patrol area quickly, working at low altitude and low speed as circumstances require for an effective Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Besides the two pilots and two mission system operators, the aircraft crew includes two observers whose main tasks are to employ the two large observation bubble windows in the performance of visual search and to use airdrop emergency equipment through the in-flight operable door for SAR missions.
 
Evolving Intelligence Gathering Capabilities
In addition to the major provisions already installed, the addition of optional sub-systems and equipment can enable the ATR 72MP to evolve into an effective intelligence gathering and/or anti-submarine warfare platform. For instance, a complete Defensive Aids Sub System (DASS) is optionally available to facilitate aircraft operations in potentially hostile areas, thus protecting the aircraft from radar, IR and laser-guided threats. 
 
The flexibility and growth capability of the platform and mission system each allow the basic ATR 72MP to increase the types of missions available to it through the inclusion of several additional sensors, all controlled by ATOS. In order to keep the crew’s workload at an optimal level, the installation of any of these optional sensors involves the introduction of two additional mission system operators with associated workstations. 
 
The ATR 72MP can, for example, be equipped with the passive Elettronica ELT-800V2 Electronic Support Measures (ESM)/ELINT system. The system data is integrated seamlessly into the overall tactical situation developed by ATOS, thus giving the aircraft excellent intelligence gathering capability. 
 
The Italian Air Force is the launch customer for the ATR 72MP and in requesting that this ELINT system be included in its customised aircraft configuration, named P-72A, an airforce spokesman confirmed the value and innovation of the aircraft: 
“We often qualify the P-72A as an ‘MP+’ aircraft. Primarily conceived as a maritime patrol [platform], the aircraft expresses potential that goes beyond patrolling, with a wide range of assignable missions.

The P-72A is a modern aircraft, with state-of-the-art technology that best expresses itself through a suite of sensors perfectly integrated into the ATOS mission system. The possibility of sharing information and the mission status in real time with a ground station allows those who have the task of exploit data, to get all the necessary information. In this sense, the P-72A expresses almost unique national capabilities in terms of the quantity and quality of information it can acquire.”

The Anti-submarine ATR 72ASW
The ATR 72MP can evolve into the ATR 72ASW in order to wage anti-submarine warfare. The installation of a special sensor and sub-system package provides a system for storing and dropping sonobuoys, which then enables the precise release of active or passive sonobuoys according to the appropriate search patterns.
 
An acoustic sub-system handles the sonobuoys dropped and then analyses the data that they collect, while the information provided allows mission system to locate and track underwater targets, so creating a corresponding detailed tactical situation. The finishing touch is the installation of a weapons system with two torpedoes, ready to attack underwater threats.
 
Photo Credit: Luca La Cava
Reference Text: 
 
 

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