Flight Tests Prove Fifth, Fourth Generation Communications

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | May 29, 2014
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[Avionics Today May 29, 2014] A new communications technology enables information sharing between fifth and fourth generation fighter jets, according to Northrop Grumman. The U.S. military, like all other nations, tries to keep communications between fighter jets in hostile environments secure. However, this is difficult to do with the latest jet, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and legacy aircraft such as F-15s — until now. 

Using its Freedom 550 Joint Enterprise Terminal during a series of recent flight tests at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Northrop Grumman demonstrated this fifth-to-fourth generation networking capability. The flight-testing occurred as part of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Emerging Capability & Prototyping’s Jetpack 5th to 4th Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) program. 
According to Honeywell, the Freedom 550 was developed in conjunction with its own dual-band Advanced Data Link (ATDL) antenna to support data communications between the F-22 Intra-flight Data Link (IFDL) and the F-35 Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL). The flight tests validated the ability to link the MADL and IFDL to common Link 16 messages, which is a jam resistant digital data link used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
This will prove to be an important function as more F-35 jets are deployed among defense units around the globe, integrated into fleets that feature F-15s and F-16s among other previous generation jets. 
F-22s were originally designed to communicate covertly only with other F-22s using the IFDL so that the communications could not be detected by enemy forces. Now, as aircraft data communications continue to evolve and the MADL is used on the fifth generation F-35, pilots will have an increased capability to communicate. 
“This is the next evolution in Honeywell’s legacy of improving military aircraft connectivity. The ATDL antennas enables the United States and its allies to communicate between 5th and 4th generation fighters,” said Mike Madsen, president, defense and space at Honeywell Aerospace. 
Two ADTL antennas are able to handle multiple tasks at the same time, and provide the same coverage as six MADL antennas on the F-35 and six IFDL antennas on the F-22. 
Northrop Grumman has been demonstrating the fifth to fourth generation communication capability since a series of joint operational exercises that began in April 2010, the aerospace and defense contractor said. 

"A total system solution — not just a waveform or just a radio — is required for [fourth-to-fifth] to become a reality," said Jeannie Hilger, vice president of network communication systems at Northrop Grumman. "Jetpack implemented a system to allow fourth-generation fighters to access the bounty of sensor information from the fifth-generation aircraft." 

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