Collins Aerospace and a US Air National Guard (ANG) unit have demonstrated the potential of a new networked command and control function, showcasing the technology’s benefits during a test flight with a uniquely-adapted Boeing KC-135 tanker.

Launched from Salt Lake City, Utah on 7 August, the test was conducted in support of the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) broader Combined Joint All Domain Command and Control (CJADC2) and Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) initiatives.

US Air National Guard KC-135s

Source: US Air National Guard

7 August test flight involved uniquely-adapted KC-135 from Utah Air National Guard (right)

Assigned to the Utah ANG’s 151st Air Refueling Wing, the aircraft involved in the test – tail number 0275 – was modified last year as part of a real-time information in the cockpit (RTIC) update. Elements of this activity included installing Link 16 secure communications, a Situational Awareness Data Link and Collins’ Tactical Targeting Networked Technology (TTNT) equipment.

“The demonstration included live-fly elements that simulated a forward-deployed element as the primary information-gathering source, and an airborne relay element,” Collins says. “Once the forward-deployed element identified and processed key target information, it transmitted collected data over the TTNT mesh network directly to the [tanker’s] flight deck.”

Providing tanker crews with such enhanced real-time situational awareness information will boost survivability and enable them to make “informed, split-second decisions in evolving threat conditions against cyber-sophisticated adversaries”, the ANG notes. “[The] Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command plan to provide this same RTIC baseline capability for all reserve component KC-135s moving forward,” it adds.

“Almost all of the technology demonstrated on ANG KC-135s can be transferred to other MAF [Mobility Air Forces] aircraft at a much lower programme risk level,” notes 151st Operations Group commander Colonel Douglas Foster. Examples could include the USAF’s Boeing KC-46A tanker, and Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130 transports.

“We’ve got the technology infrastructure to provide both command and control elements and those executing the mission from the cockpit with the actionable intelligence that’s so critical to the success of CJADC2 and ABMS,” says Elaine Bitonti, Collins’ vice-president, CJADC2 demonstration and experimentation.