The Global Personnel Recovery System is the only surviving element of the advanced concept technology demonstration called Personnel Recovery Extraction Survivability aided by Smart Sensors, or in short, PRESS.
PRESS started in 2001, and 13 technologies were evaluated, said Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Johns, JFCOM’s chief of personal recovery. “We have basically gone down to one technology, which is GPRS.”
Currently, GPRS is being refined before its 2005 transfer to the Air Force Special Operations Command, which was designated as the Defense Department’s combat search and rescue agency.
AFSOC will be responsible for moving the technology from the developmental stage to the field for user evaluation.
The plus side of this technology is that it was born “joint,” and it will have to stay “joint,” said Johns.
GPRS, developed by Innovative Solutions International, is a near real-time data transfer system.
When it was first created, GPRS was in the form and size of a laptop. It has been scaled down to the two-card level, basically the size of a hand-held radio, said Marine Maj. Paul Voss, the operational manager for PRESS. The goal is to reduce it to the size of a calling card that can be inserted into the aviators’ survival radios, PDAs or laptops, said Johns.
If a pilot has to eject out of his aircraft, once on the ground, he pulls out his survival radio and pushes one button that, with the help of GPRS, will alert the entire personnel recovery network, explained Johns.
Quick-burst satellite radio transmissions automatically update the positions of all search-and-rescue assets, and a text-messaging feature offers secure communications.
The personnel recovery teams are notified of the individual’s location, and are able to receive messages about the situation of the downed aviator: whether he is injured or has enemy forces surrounding him.
Everybody on the battlefield can assist in recovery operations, said Johns. “If you look historically, you have had a dedicated search and rescue capability. In today’s arena, anybody can go out there and be a recovery force,” he said.
Because rescue forces can pinpoint the location of the downed pilot, it shortens the time needed to recover the isolated personnel, said Voss. “What took days now can be done in hours,” he said.
The only units that have a version of GPRS on their HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters are the 210th Rescue Group, in Alaska, and the 301st rescue squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Both squadrons had units, which used GPRS to rescue distressed civilians. The 301st rescued an ailing man on a fishing boat 500 miles away from Florida’s eastern shore, while the 210th rescued a climber on a glacier in Alaska.
While in both cases the victims were not equipped with GPRS, the HH-60 helicopters and the squadrons’ operational center could communicate with each other, said Johns.
“GPRS is just one part of the overall architecture. There are other avenues. Instead of activating the GPRS, they use their cell phone, and say where they are, and they get entered into the architecture. GPRS is just a sub set of the architecture.”
The handheld devices are not in service yet, said Johns, because they still are undergoing testing.
JFCOM, meanwhile, is trying to promote the system to the services.
“As we look into the future, I also would like to see on the services step forward, provide the resources and operationalize the Global Personnel Recovery Systems,” said Jerry Jennings, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoner of war and missing personnel affairs. “Let’s not let that advanced concept technology demonstration be relegated to collecting dust on a shelf.”