02 September 2014 by Dean Wingrin - defenceWeb
The locally developed Impi tactical modem is fast gaining acceptance within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as a cost-effective blue-force tracker, already in use by members of the Special Forces and the South African Air Force (SAAF).
Launched in 2011 by Saab Systems South Africa, the 0.6 kg device can either be fitted onto vehicles, aircraft or naval vessels as well as be carried by soldiers. The Impi incorporates a GSM modem, allowing a cell phone network to transmit the tracks. Where no cellphone coverage is available, an embedded Iridium satellite modem is used. It also has a mil-standard data connection, allowing the utilisation of HF, VHF and UHF radios to transmit the tracks.
The communications data carrier for the position relay is determined via a “least-cost” mechanism, meaning that the GPRS data channel of the GSM network will automatically be selected if available. Should no GSM network coverage be available, the Impi positional update will automatically be routed via the Iridium satellite network. This means that Impi provides positional updates from any geographic position on Earth, to any designated control system. Data security is ensured by encryption.
Impi has been integrated into the Chaka tactical C2 (Command & Control) support software which, according to Cobus Valentine, the Command & Control specialist at Saab Grintek Defence, is the only tool currently used by the SANDF to provide ‘jointness.’
“It is capable of two-way data communication. If all other means of communication fails, you can connect the computer to this with Chaka,” Valentine explains. “You can still send and receive messages.”
Together with an onboard battery, a panic button is also incorporated into the unit. When pressed, a message will flash on Chaka, giving position, call sign as well as the direction of travel of the person in duress.
However, when used for blue force tracking, Chaka is not required as the data can be sent via a Link-ZA IL6 message.
Designed from the outset to tough mil-spec criteria, the system was deployed during the multinational Exercise Oxide off the Mozambican coast in September last year as part of a technology demonstration.
Valentine told defenceWeb that during the exercise, there was a case where an incident was simulated that involved a submarine.
“A Parachute Action Group was flown from Waterkloof onboard a SAAF C-130. The aircraft was tracked as well as the Special Forces members aboard the aircraft. They then jumped over the submarine and while they jumped, the parachutists were tracked. Only when they went under the water did we lose the track, but as soon as they popped up from the water, the track was transmitting again,” Valentine recalled.
A further trial was conducted during a combat search and rescue exercise with the Special Forces, first without and then utilising the Impi. Valentine says the difference was astronomical in getting to the person on the ground quickly.
Besides the Impi recording tracks which are then available for replay, everything that goes into the system and comes out of it is automatically recorded in a War Diary which is date/time stamped.
Special Forces have used the unit operationally on outside deployments for the past two years. The system has been flight certified by the Air Force, with the installation on the Rooivalk conducted under the auspices of Denel. The entire Rooivalk fleet have been installed with the blue force tracking devices, the same as with the C-130 fleet. The Oryx is also having the Impi permanently fitted into the helicopter, connected to the aircraft’s power supply.
The SAAF is currently using the commercial Spidertrack aircraft tracking system, which utilises an overseas-based server and the internet to communicate.
The Impi software is installed on a server housed at a SAAF facility, meaning only Air Force personnel can access the server and the data that emanates from the blue force tracking devices, greatly increasing operational security.
Considering the loss of Malaysia Airlines’ flight MH370 earlier this year, Saab are in discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) to certify a tracker, based on Impi, for commercial installations.
Saab is hoping to shortly certify the tracking device on Airbus and Boeing airliners in order for airlines to track their aircraft in real time.
In June it was announced that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) confirmed that the Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF) was expected to be in a position to deliver draft options for enhanced global aircraft tracking to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in September, leading to presentation to the industry before year-end.