France is to significantly expand the numbers of Link 16-enabled aircraft operated by its armed forces over the next four years as part of a plan to significantly improve its network-centric warfare capabilities.

French air force Dassault Mirage 2000D strike aircraft and Mirage 2000-5 fighters will receive Link 16 capability by the end of 2007 and the navy's Dassault Rafale F3s from 2008, said Michel Sandoz, joint services tactical datalink programme manager for the DGA arms procurement agency.

Speaking at IQPC's Tactical Data Link conference in Brussels in late April, Sandoz said air force Airbus Military A400Ms, Lockheed Martin C-130s and Transall C160s will also be equipped with Link 16 and probably Link 22 from 2007-8. Consideration is also being given to using the air force's Israel Aircraft Industries/EADS Eagle 1 and future EADS Euromale unmanned air vehicles as platforms to support Link 16/22 hubs to expand coverage in operational areas, he said.

The joint US-European Multifunctional Information Distribution System low-volume terminal will be standard for most Link 16 fits. France is a key participant in the NATO Improved Link 11 consortium developing Link 22. Sandoz says the DGA is about to launch two major Link 22 integration studies under a five-year programme of interoperability testing for all military tactical datalinks.

A three-terminal network will be set up in the short term to prove the system's performance to the air force and army, with the French navy having already selected Link 22 for operational deployment aboard its air warfare and command ships. The second study will examine potential adaptation of the Link 22 waveform to operate on communications networks, including high speed VHF radio, satellite communications and possibly software-defined radio.

The interoperability test programme will initially use simulation to explore potential problem areas. The DGA last month completed development of a Boeing E-3F airborne warning and control system aircraft emulation rig using real mission system software to support ground-based exploration of datalink integration issues. A similar rig for the Rafale will be developed over the next 14 months.


Source: Flight International