Helping our Armed Forces Prepare for Future Conflicts with up to Date Electronic Warfare Software

Operating Systems: Windows (XP, 7)
Languages: C#.NET, C++
Cobham Aviation Services provides operational readiness training, mission rehearsal and electronic warfare training for military and international armed forces. This involves using complex software to simulate attacks and when Cobham decided that this was nearing the end of its useful life they asked Zircon to update it.
Background To The Project

During the Falkland’s War Exocet missiles inflicted heavy damage on the Royal Navy.  After the conflict there was an obvious need to train naval personnel and pilots in how best to cope with the evolving threats posed by hostile guided missiles.  For many years Cobham Aviation Services has been performing this role for the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and NATO, amongst others.

The company operates a fleet of Falcon 20 jets fitted with a number of pods that create a variety of different effects to recreate hostile environments.  These include radar jamming and threat simulation, communications jamming, false target generation, electronic surveillance, platform location and attitude logging, and height-keeping towed targets with controllable radar cross section.  The Electronic Warfare Officer on the plane controls the system and produces whatever effects are required to stage realistic end-to-end rehearsals of complex and demanding missions.

When the multi-million pound contract was recently renewed for a further 10 years it was decided that the legacy software needed updating.  It was written in Borland C++, a language which was no longer supported.  This meant it was becoming increasingly difficult to further develop the application to allow enhancement of the training schedule.  What’s more the hardware had become dated and was difficult to maintain.  So Cobham felt the need to translate it into a more modern language.

“They were very focused on building a good relationship with us, and pretty driven in terms of accomplishing what was required on schedule.”

Colin Rebettes

Cobham

The Zircon Solution

Colin Rebettes, one of Cobham’s electronic warfare experts, explains that “We’d written the original software ourselves, but that needed translating from an old Borland compiler to an integrated development environment.  We had the capability to do that in-house but our workload meant it was more sensible to outsource it.”

When Cobham started making enquires about a suitable software house to undertake this project Zircon’s name came up.  “We went to their offices,” Colin explains, “had a look around, reviewed their capabilities, and were impressed with the work they’d done in other environments.  Also, the fact that they had BSI ISO9001:2008 (TickIT) accreditation was important to us.”

We were able to port the software over into a current language (C# .NET).  This enabled us to retain much of the core application code.  In the process we also fixed a number of bugs that had either become apparent over time or which we discovered once we set to work.  This approach was much more cost effective than a complete re-write and has successfully extended the life of this legacy system and made future enhancements a lot easier.

Rising To Every Challenge

Colin explains that “There was a bit of an issue in that this environment was new to the Zircon engineers.  They weren’t familiar with the kind of tasks the software was being asked to perform, but they soon developed a good understanding of what was going on.”

Another issue was the fact that “We couldn’t supply Zircon with the actual hardware and had to rig up an environment on which the software could run and be tested – we had to create some simulated interfaces for them to work with.  Then there was the fact that there was a huge quantity of legacy code which was not written to current standards and which contained a lot of bugs  So it was a big job.”

Despite all these difficulties we were able to hit our milestones on schedule.   “They were ahead of us much of the time,” concedes Colin, “we were pretty busy on other projects and weren’t always ready to verify and sign things off as soon as they were completed.”

“There was a bit of an issue in that this environment was new to the Zircon engineers …..  but they soon developed a good understanding of what was going on.”

Colin Rebettes

Cobham

Easy To Work With

Colin comments that “The level of services from Zircon was excellent, they were very professional.  Although their offices weren’t nearby to ours we stayed in close touch with their engineers on the telephone.  We had no difficulty sorting out challenges as they arose – they were good at communicating.   And if it was something that needed discussing face to face they’d come down to see us at a moment’s notice.”

“I liked the fact that they weren’t too big, or too small,” Coin continues.  “They had all the necessary skills, capabilities and resources, but weren’t so large that working closely with us was a problem – it was a good fit.  They were very focused on building a good relationship with us, and pretty driven in terms of accomplishing what was required on schedule.  If we had a similar project I’d definitely be looking to use them again.”

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