Thales Land and Joint Systems is working on a derivative of a multi-payload datalink developed for its AREOS-RECCE NG stand-off reconnaissance pod to meet tactical communication requirements aboard the Dassault Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator.
The datalink is also being eyed as a candidate for the NATO alliance ground surveillance system (AGS) architecture, with Thales the communications subsystem provider on that programme. AGS includes both manned and unmanned components, the latter based on the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk UAV.
In parallel, Thales has also unveiled a development programme for a Link 16-like datalink that would use J-series message formats, but operate on UHF waveforms rather than L-band. The company says that it is actively working on the new link – designated LX-16 – as the basis for a networking architecture that can interface with Link 16, but which could be exported to non-Western alliance countries.
The AREOS-RECCE NG pod is on order by the French air force and navy with the system carrying both a digital long-range imaging camera and an infrared line scanner. The pod datalink architecture incorporates Ku-band satellite communications and UHF modes.
Patrick Caine, vice-president aero and naval activities in Thales Land and Joint Systems, says the link is capable of speeds above 100Mb/s and can support transmission of imagery, full-motion video, and moving-target indication plot data from synthetic-aperture radars.
The AREOS-RECCE NG fit represents a “very important credential” for the company as the global surveillance and mission aircraft markets develop, says Caine. “Next is coming Neuron; we have won the datalink.”
Implementation of a derivative of the datalink on AGS remains dependent on further decisions on the direction of that overall programme by NATO. Caine says that “we have significant expectations on the AGS programme because all the datalink package has been given to France and Thales…When it takes off we will be in charge of this whole datalink package.”
High-rate point-to-point datalinks have been identified by Thales as significant growth area: “It is a growing market; it is an important market for us and there are clearly high expectations in terms of business.”
The LX-16 system will be unveiled at next month’s Paris air show. Caine says the waveform used by the link is based on the firm’s proprietary “nextwave” tactical communications development programme.
The concept has also been flagged with a number of non-NATO air forces. “When we meet our export customers among non-NATO air forces they very often tell us their dream is to get a Link 16 capability because they know it is a mini revolution for NATO air forces.”
Talks have also been held with non-Western aircraft manufacturers: “Those aircraft manufacturers which are quite successful on the export market, and typically the non-NATO aircraft market, see that capability as a good discriminator or a good plus for them to be able to offer.”
Coalition operations involving both Link 16 and LX-16-capable aircraft would be facilitated by using an interface processor, with this likely to be carried by a large command and control aircraft.