Special Mission Aircraft Command & Control System

Issue 88 - January 2019

Armed forces and security forces need air platforms equipped with special mission systems to be more effective in the operational area. Fixed-wing aircrafts, helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles performing activities such as intelligence, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, surveillance, anti-submarine warfare provide a great advantage to the armed forces and security forces in the operational area. These air platforms are equipped with special mission equipment according to the area of responsibility (AOR) and the area of operations (AO) of the user. However, the most important feature of these platforms is the command & control system, which allows the mission equipment and weapons to operate in an integrated manner.

There is a clear need for countries to perform continuous reconnaissance, surveillance, intelligence, and patrol activities, in order to protect their borders and cross-border economic interests. For this purpose, long-range radar systems are the most widely used sensors. The effective use of camera and optical systems is often limited to the horizon. These systems, which cannot be installed in hostile or threatened areas, must be installed within the borders of the country. This situation considerably limits the coverage and activity areas of intelligence and exploration activities. Especially in areas where the territory of the country is wide, the coastline is long, the islands are too close to the continental shelf, surveillance activities might be insufficient. The inability to identify the activities behind the islands or terrain conditions could create a great weakness for the defence of the country. This situation is true for many countries that have a vast territory and coastline, such as Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, France, Norway and the United States.

Establishing a permanent maritime or air task force to protect the areas of interest in the seas by monitoring beyond the naturally protected lands and islands across the border is a laborious and quite expensive activity. At the same time, it is not always possible due to international laws. Using airborne surveillance and reconnaissance platforms at an appropriate altitude contributes greatly to the solution to this problem. For this purpose, air, land and naval forces, coast guard, gendarmerie and security forces have been operating special mission aircraft.

As a result of the studies which started in 1999, Maritime Patrol/Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPA/MRA) (MELTEM) and Airborne Early Warning & Control Aircraft (AEW&C) were supplied to our country. Havelsan, within the scope of MELTEM (MELTEM II & III) and HİK (Peace Eagle- AEW&C) Projects, have provided the Tactical Command System as part of the Air Platform and Tactical Command & Control Information System and Simulation & Training System as part of the Ground System and has started to work on post-warranty maintenance of hardware & software (preventive, corrective, adaptive and perfective).

With the HİK and MELTEM projects, the reconnaissance and patrol capabilities of Air Force, Naval Forces, and Coast Guard Command increased significantly in the operational area. Thanks to these aircraft, which can perform long endurance flights, reliable intelligence can be obtained from the mission area and the cross-border regions, and this capability comes as a force multiplier for the armed forces.

Due to its area of duty and responsibility, the Air Force can use all aircraft in its inventory for reconnaissance and patrol missions. However, for other forces and security forces, such a source is not available. In particular, Naval Forces and Coast Guard units need air platforms that can provide over-the-horizon (OTH) intelligence and save time for their fleets. These types of air platforms, which can perform reconnaissance and patrol missions in maritime conditions, are generally dubbed as Maritime Patrol/Reconnaissance aircraft. These special aircraft are equipped with high-tech systems where the concepts of aviation and maritime are intertwined and the operational needs are greatly influenced by one another. Maritime Patrol/Reconnaissance aircraft can be considered to consist of two basic and one support element: Aircraft and Mission System, and Operations Support Center.


After the first maritime patrol aircraft was produced in the 1960s, airplanes and their derivatives, which are usually produced for standard passenger or military cargo, have been used for such missions. These platforms are modified to enable the installation and use of sensors and weapons according to the operational needs of the naval forces and the coast guard forces. The selection of the aircraft is based on the size of the area in which they will be deployed, the required length of the mission and the body/engine configuration that will not reduce the operational performance of the sensors. The bodies of the selected aircraft are modified for the installation of sensors and weapons included in the mission system.

Mission System:

What makes Maritime Patrol/Reconnaissance Aircraft “special” is the Mission System installed on them. The basic components and functions of the Mission System, which are created according to the operational need, are listed below.

Some mission systems include defensive aid (missile approach warning, chaff, flare) suites. On the other hand, magnetic anomaly detectors (MAD) and sonobuoy receivers are used on anti-submarine warfare capable aircraft to detect the location of targets. The aircraft that are expected to perform electronic warfare, on the other hand, are equipped with more sensitive signal intelligence gathering (SIGINT) and jamming devices.

Mission systems of Maritime Patrol/Reconnaissance aircraft do not have a standard sub-system configuration. These subsystems are assembled in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of the Naval Forces and the Coast Guard units and their tactics.

Command & Control Software:

Sensors and communication equipment require advanced technology and investment. Therefore, these systems generally are produced by global companies with standard features. However, it is possible to find alternatives to these devices with similar capabilities. On the other hand, Command & Control software is specially developed to ensure the most effective use of components that constitute the mission system. Some sensor (radar) producing companies try to standardize Command & Control software by creating a standard mission system configuration for the basic needs of countries. However, the weakest point of this approach is that it must be used for a single sensor (radar, camera) model. This makes the system dependent on a single brand and model throughout its operational life.

Since the Command & Control software controls and coordinates all subsystems in the mission system, this software is considered as the brain of the mission system. It is quite obvious that the technology used in the development of software, which controls the mission systems, should be compatible with sensors, communication system and other support systems (self-protection, weapons, navigation etc.). However, the basic approach to the design of the Command & Control System is to understand the course of actions and decision processes of the armed forces or security forces who will use this system and reflect them to the system. The most critical issue that makes the mission system special lies here.

The ability to develop Command Control software for air mission systems is recognized as a strategic competence that global defence companies can achieve and maintain with decades of investment. Therefore, companies and countries that develop Command & Control systems only provide information about their capabilities and refrain from sharing information about their design and technologies. Although the countries that are willing to develop their own Command & Control systems offer very high prices, this area is excluded from the scope of technology transfer.

The greatest engineering problem of the Command & Control system to be solved is to operate all subsystems of the mission system in the most efficient and integrated way.

It is not possible to integrate these systems and ensure that they work together without having knowledge about the design, production, information exchange and working methods of all the sub-systems (radar, camera, communication, navigation etc.) that constitute the mission system.

Operations Center:

The activities of special mission aircrafts are planned in Operations Centers formed for this purpose and the data collected from the operations are analyzed in these centers.  The Command & Control system used in the operation center is compatible with the aircraft system.

Conclusion and Evaluation:

Havelsan, which was founded by Turkish Armed Forces Foundation to develop strategic software with national resources, develops domestic software and indigenous system solutions for Turkish Armed Forces, Security Forces and armies of allied nations as the biggest military software development company of our country. Havelsan also invests in the acquisition of critical technologies by conducting R&D on the company’s strategic goal, developing Command & Control software. The new generation of Command & Control Systems, the future airborne reconnaissance and intelligence needs of the armed forces and security forces are analyzed and continue to be developed. The studies are continuing at full speed with the projection that Havelsan’s National & Domestic systems will be used in all special mission aircraft in our country within the next decade.