The US Air Force is seeking information on a "communications gateway" that would one day be able to digitally link fourth and fifth-generation fighters inside a highly contested threat environment.
"This RFI [request for information] seeks information concerning the availability of a system at a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 6 or above that allows 5th Generation fighters to digitally connect to and exchange data with 4th Generation fighters and other platforms when operating in highly contested regions," reads a USAF document.
The USAF hopes to eventually procure a system that would "improve battlespace awareness through sensor target data sharing in order to attain a real-time Common Tactical Picture/Common Operational Picture (CTP/COP)," the RFI reads. The data-link would also increase the survivability of friendly aircraft by improving mutual support and reducing fratricide incidents. It would also "increase targeting efficiency through the exchange of engagement status information to diminish redundant weapons expenditure," the document reads. It should also make the combination of fourth and fifth-generation fighters more "lethal" in combat.
The USAF wants the system to be installed on an existing Link 16 platform that can be used from close enough distances to highly contested airspace to connect with Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors via the Intra-Flight Data Link (IFDL) and eventually Lockheed F-35s via the Multifunctional Advanced Data Link (MADL). Because the new "communications gateway" will be operating with fifth-generation fighters, it will need to be equipped with multi-level security features, the RFI reads.
The RFI comes as the USAF Scientific Advisory Board is investigating how to maintain secure communications while operating against an anti-access/area denial threat environment.