A Hanscom Air Force Base team recently completed demonstrations that tested new techniques on tactical data links to increase data sharing in contested environments and improve warfighter readiness.
The Tactical Data Link Enhancements Team, formed through a partnership between the Aerial Networks Division, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center, traveled to Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to test out their new Heimdall tactical data link system.
The system uses innovative techniques to improve overall fighter performance in highly contested, near-peer environments.
“Heimdall provides a critical capability to existing tactical data links that ensures continued operation in future fights,” said Michael McAuliffe, Tactical Datalinks and Gateways Branch program manager. “What our system does is provide the Air Force with an advanced capability not only for the aircraft of the future but the aircraft of today. We have to keep these current platforms relevant for the modern fight, and that’s our objective with Heimdall.”
The U.S., NATO, and coalition forces use TDLs for transmitting and exchanging real-time data among allies for shared situational awareness.
“The problem with TDL technologies is that they often take years to integrate, decades to field, and you can’t just flip a switch and get everyone on a new system,” said Dr. Bow-Nan Cheng, MIT LL associate group leader. “With Heimdall, we were able to develop the technology in a way that enables a phased rollout. This not only provides immediate gains, but also increased performance for platforms willing to make long-term enhancements.”
The team demonstrated the new capability on an F-15C Eagle, modified at Eglin AFB, Florida, and flown to Holloman AFB, New Mexico. From there, it joined a C-12J Huron, also equipped with the new technology, to fly test missions over the White Sands Missile Range, N.M.. The team and aircraft then joined hundreds of other aircraft participating in exercise Northern Edge 21, based out of Eielson AFB and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and flew test and exercise missions over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.
“We wanted to test this critical capability in a live, contested operational environment and we were able to do just that,” McAuliffe said. “During these demonstrations, we put our technology through a wide range of scenarios, against multiple categories of threats, and Heimdall performed successfully across the board.”
Prior to the month and a half of integration and testing, the team collaborated with more than a dozen organizations to construct what McAuliffe believes was the most comprehensive and robust threat environment of its type to date.
Speaking on the installation of the hardware, McAuliffe believes it to be a relatively straightforward process, taking only three days to outfit the F-15C. If the system is fielded, this will ensure downtime for modification is kept to a minimum, he said.
The team is planning additional testing and development but no future dates have been set.
The TDL Enhancements Team is part of the Aerial Networks Division of the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks directorate, headquartered at Hanscom AFB.