Air Force to upgrade A-10s with 3-D audio (but not for the reason you’d think)

Piloting a warplane gets busy and loud, so last year the U.S. Air Force asked for proposals to add 3-D audio to A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft. The service has now named Terma North America as the sole source for the upgrade contract, according to

The Air Force’s proposal request stated the need for a system “to drastically improve the spatial, battlespace, and situational awareness of the A-10C pilots.”

Terma’s 3D-Audio and Radio Separation system is already used in Danish F-16 Fighting Falcons in its Missle Warner System.

The primary benefits of the surround-sound system are “reduced workload, improved situational awareness and survivability, reduced hearing loss and fatigue, and improved speech intelligibility and flight safety.”

According to Terma, the cacophony of sounds in the air can be difficult to separate out. Background and directional radio chatter, aircraft mechanical and electronic indicator and warning sounds all come in “one big blob” as a Danish jet pilot in the above video describes it. Add in the sounds during war exercises or engagements, and it can become difficult to discern the most important sound of the moment.

Terma’s audio separation system mimics real sound with 3-D directional factors and plays it through the pilot’s headset.

The directional audio system enables the human brain to skip steps that could save the pilot’s life. Ordinarily, with current headsets, when a sound is detected, the brain has to figure out what kind of sound it is, where it’s coming from, and then determine the appropriate action.

By adding directional cues to audio content, both the type of sound and its origin are addressed at least partially. In Terma’s studies, a pilot using the 3-D Audio and Radio Separation solution can determine an approaching missile’s direction 1.5 seconds faster than by using a threat display on the cockpit panel.

The Terma system enables, “Instant attention on the threat, no need to understand voice message or interpret the symbol on a 2-D display.”

The A-10 doesn’t have stealth coating as do the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which could limit the A-10’s suitability in some applications. Adding the 3-D audio system could extend the use of A-10s by increasing the aircraft’s survivability in high-threat situations.

The Air Force constantly works to improve communications with new technology, such as its contract with Sonitus Technologies for back-teeth-mounted microphone systems. The government has not disclosed how many of its 281 A-10Cs it will equip with the Terma 3-D audio system.

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