GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC
Internet technology used to send visual data from command and control aircraft to fighter's weapon system operator
Boeing has demonstrated collaborative in-flight planning of an air strike via an internet-like connection between a command and control aircraft and a fighter. The test involved Boeing's 737 avionics flying laboratory and F-15E technology demonstrator and used the Link 16 tactical datalink.
The demonstration was prompted by the low success of Scud-hunting missions over Iraq during the Gulf War, when F-15 crews were given only voice briefings on new targets.
If required, the capability to share time-critical target images via Link 16 could be fielded on a limited number of F-15Es in as little as six months, says Don Winter, director network-centric operations at Boeing Phantom Works.
The biggest challenge, Winter says, was to demonstrate that the controller and pilot could share a target image via the low-bandwidth connection provided by Link 16 and with the limited computing power available on the F-15. Images and other data were exchanged over the network as internet-protocol packets embedded in Link 16 messages.
In the demonstration, the F-15E was launched on a preplanned mission then rerouted in flight to a new target. The 737, acting as a command and control aircraft, received the new target location via satellite and sent a folder of thumbnail images to the F-15 via Link 16. The F-15 weapon system operator (WSO) selected an image and a full-size version was downloaded over the datalink.
A usable image was available within 20s, says Winter. Using their display cursors, the controller and the WSO were then able to annotate the shared image, each seeing in real time what the other was doing, and collaboratively plan a strike on the new target. The 737 and F-15 were about 180km (100nm) apart, and the collaborative session lasted about 8min, says Winter.
"We were able to divert the crew to a new, fairly well camouflaged target, which they visually acquired on the first pass," Winter says. The F-15 crew was given no information on the new target before taking off and had not flown in the area before.
The demonstration used the advanced display core processor (ADCP) and Link 16 fighter datalink, both of which are being retrofitted into USAir Force F-15Es. Winter says the USAF is interested in equipping one wing of F-15Es with the capability.
ADCP-equipped F-15Es will become operational in 2004, but the capability could be fielded earlier by installing a dedicated processor, he says.
Source: Flight International