An interesting article on DefenseNews illustrates how Tactical Data Links and network integration are expected to play a key role in defeating enemy electronic warfare efforts during future conflicts. Data-link networks allow aircraft and other systems to cross-check their information and allow war fighters to filter out bad information being transmitted by hostile electronic warfare systems.
“One of the counters to some of the adversary electronic warfare capability is that network integration,” said recently Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, the U.S. Air Force’s deputy chief for operations, plans and requirements. “Even active electronically scanned array radars can be attacked, but it takes a dedicated effort to jam those systems. A combination of sensor fusion and networking could overcome such attacks however”.
Tactical Data Links (TDLs) involve transmissions of bit-oriented digital information which are exchanged via message formats used in support of joint and combined operations. They can provides real-time, jam-resistant secure transfer of combat data, voice and relative navigation information between widely dispersed battle elements. Participants gain situational awareness by exchanging digital data over a common communication link that is continuously and automatically updated in real time, reducing the chance of fratricide, duplicate assignments or missed targets. Each participant in the communication link is able to electronically see the battle space, including assigned targets or threats.
In the recent years, several programs have been established (particularly in the U.S.) to transform conventional Tactical Data Links (e.g. Link 16, Link 22, and Variable Message Format) to comply with a modern net-centric vision. Within these programs, TDLs are being expanded to assess and transform joint data link communications to the net centric standards, and to ensure interoperability and seamless integration with Joint communication systems. The implementation of these network capabilities into the data link environment is expected to enhance the decision cycle between sensor-to-shooter; providing information-superiority, shared environment that enhances combat power by increasing speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and self synchronization. This transformation must balance the needs of the warfighters with the requirements for net centric operations.
In the U.S., an Advanced Tactical Data Link (ATDL) study was started in 2008 to evaluate various data link alternatives for contested and anti access airspace scenarios. This activity, that culminated in a public solicitation from the U.S. Navy, responds to a critical requirement for increased connectivity and capacity between the tactical and airborne domain to exploit complementary C2, ISR and targeting for greater mission effectiveness. Current tactical communication capabilities have limited throughput and scalability, insufficient AJ (anti-jam) and LPE (low probability of exploitation) capability, and high latency and network join times. Link-16, the most widely used airborne tactical data link, provides C2, SA, weapons coordination, electronic warfare, and other capabilities, but does not meet emerging throughput, scalability, and latency requirements, especially in high electronic attack environments. In this context, the ATDL aims at complementing existing links to support integrated sensing and weapons coordination and control across air, maritime and ground domains for both manned and unmanned platforms.
U.S. Navy is particularly interested in advanced tactical data link capability for the E-2D Hawkeye carrier-based maritime surveillance aircraft, the F/A-18G Growler electronic warfare jet, the F-35 joint strike fighter, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
References: DefenseNews (1), C4I Technology News (2), FBO.GOV (3), Military&Aerospace (4)