An F-35B short takeoff and landing variant during weapons testing. (Lockheed Martin)
San Diego-based Cubic Corp. is working on a video data link (VDL) for the Lockheed Martin F-35 to provide ground force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) full-motion video and thus better situational awareness for improved targeting and fewer chances of fratricide and collateral damage.
"The requirements driver is really the JTAC mission supporting troops on the ground--being able to get video feeds down to support their mission on the ground," Mike Twyman, the president of Cubic Mission Solutions (CMS), said in a recent interview.
During a 3rd quarter earnings call this month, Cubic Corp. CEO Bradley Feldmann said that Cubic's F-35 video data link "will significantly increase the aircraft's combat capability and is essential to the overall F-35 follow on modernization program."
In April, the F-35 debuted in combat for the U.S. military when Air Force F-35As equipped with Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munitions struck "an entrenched Daesh tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains" in Iraq, according to the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO). At the time, the JPO highlighted the F-35's ability to share sensor data with other advanced aircraft.
Fighter and strike aircraft, such as Boeing F/A-18s, Eurofighter Typhoons, Dassault Aviation Rafales, and Fairchild-Republic A-10 Warthog Close Air Support aircraft, have flown with the capability of exchanging full-motion video with ground forces through various models of the L3Harris Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) system. ROVER is compatible with targeting pods, such as the Northrop Grumman Litening and Lockheed Martin Sniper.
Developed after Sept. 11, 2001 under the Air Force's Big Safari program for special mission aircraft, ROVER initially served to give Lockheed Martin AC-130 gunships real-time ground surveillance video from General Atomics RQ-1 Predator UAVs and then to give ground forces video links with those aircraft and others. Since then, U.S. and allied militaries have bought thousands of ROVER units. Newer models, such as the ROVER-5 and ROVER-6, are laptop-sized or smaller and can fuse data and imagery from dozens of aircraft.
Cubic announced in June that Lockheed Martin had selected CMS to furnish the VDL for the F-35.
During the Cubic 3rd quarter earnings call earlier this month, Feldmann said that CMS had bought 20 percent of Pixia Corp., a Virginia-based technology firm that supplies imagery management systems for the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. One of the tasks of Pixia systems is the integration of aerial and ground based full-motion video sensors.
CMS has the option to buy the remaining 80 percent of Pixia by February, 2020, Feldmann said.
"Cubic's video data link capability for the F-35 will significantly increase the aircraft's combat capability and is essential to the overall F-35 follow on modernization program," he said during this month's earnings call.
The Cubic stake in Pixia is to dovetail with CMS capabilities.
"We made a bet in CMS on what I call the insatiable appetite for full motion video, pictures worth a thousand words, so that we can help our military have awareness of what's happening on the battlefield," Feldmann said. "We have distribution systems with [Cubic-owned] Teralogics. We have satellite systems to move these things around. We have networking systems and so it all fits in moving full motion video around."
"What Pixia provides is, they're doing the processing and storage and retrieval of very similar data called wide-area motion imagery," Feldmann said. "And so wide-area motion imagery is like taking a picture of a big swath of a city and then when you see something of interest, you take this soda straw, if you will, and you take full motion video of it. So it's sort of like helping you understanding what's going on in a big swath area and then using our full motion video."