Enhanced airborne communications demonstrated

20th February 2017
Posted By : Lanna Cooper

Northrop Grumman Corporation and the Royal Air Force have successfully completed a communications interoperability trial involving both F-35B Lightning II and Typhoon FGR4 aircraft, via an Airborne Gateway developed by Northrop Grumman.

The two week trial, named Babel Fish III, funded by the Ministry of Defence, was recently conducted in airspace above the upper Mojave Desert, California, as part of the RAF’s Exercise High Rider.

During the trial, the Northrop Grumman Airborne Gateway connected the 5th gen F-35B, which communicates using the stealthy Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), and the 4th gen Typhoon, by translating MADL messages to Link 16 format. Link 16 is the US and NATO military tactical data link used by some military aircraft, ships and ground forces to communicate and exchange tactical data. The F-35 and the Typhoon can communicate directly via Link 16 but previously could not communicate or share certain 5th gen information.

This is the first time non-US  5th and 4th gen aircraft have shared MADL delivered data and is an important demonstration of interoperability as the UK moves closer to initial operating capability of its F-35 Lightning II Force in late 2018.

“Being able to network sensor data between 5th gen and 4th gen fast-jets and other battlespace assets in a stealthy manner is critically important to enabling the full capability offered by 5th gen aircraft,” said Andrew Tyler, Chief Executive, Northrop Grumman Europe. “We are pleased to have played our part in this successful trial, the output of which will help the MOD to broaden its understanding of the effect that can be generated by its 5th gen combat-air fleet.” 

“I have been enormously impressed both by the collegiate effort to make the Babel Fish III trial happen so successfully, and the specific outcomes of the trial,” said Air Commodore Linc Taylor, Senior Responsible Owner, for the UK’s F-35 Programme. “This marks another great step forward in interoperability between our 4th gen and 5th gen aircraft, putting the RAF at the forefront of this work. We plan to continue to understand and develop where the most capability and interoperability benefit lies through a series of future trials along similar lines.”    

Bridging this 5th to 4th gen generation platform interoperability gap was made possible by the inclusion of a Northrop Grumman Freedom 550 software-defined radio in the Airborne Gateway. The Freedom 550 is derived from the integrated communications, navigation and identification avionics suite the company developed and manufactures for the F-35; it was validated under the Jetpack Joint Capability Technology Demonstration programme, an effort sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and US Air Force that concluded in 2014.

Northrop Grumman’s Airborne Gateway translates and relays information from various sources across diverse platforms and domains to enhance interoperability, situational awareness, communications and coordination for warfighters in the air, on the ground and at sea. The system is derived from the combat-proven airborne communications node that Northrop Grumman provides to the US Air Force.

Northrop Grumman deployed a similar Airborne Gateway capability in March 2016 to support Australia’s Exercise Jericho Dawn 16-3, successfully demonstrating the powerful effects of integrated air and land operations during this live-fire exercise.

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