In a two-week trial dubbed “Babel Fish III” in California, the Royal Air Force and Northrop Grumman have demonstrated communications interoperability between F-35B LIGHTNING IIs and TYPHOON FRG4s, using an Airborne Gateway developed by Northrop Grumman.
The Airborne Gateway translates and relays information from various sources across diverse platforms and domains to enhance interoperability, situational awareness, communications and coordination in the air, on the ground and at sea. The system is derived from the combat-proven airborne communications node that Northrop Grumman provides to the USAF.
During the trial, the gateway connected the fifth-generation F-35B, which communicates using the stealthy Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), and the fourth-generation TYPHOON, by translating MADL messages to Link 16 format. The two aircraft can communicate directly via Link 16 but previously could not communicate or share certain fifth-generation information.
The trial marks first time non-US fifth- and fourth-generation aircraft have shared MADL-delivered data and is an important demonstration of interoperability as the UK moves closer to initial operating capability of its F-35s in late 2018.
“Being able to network sensor data between fifth-generation and fourth-generation fast jets and other battlespace assets in a stealthy manner is critically important to enabling the full capability offered by fifth-generation aircraft,” said Andrew Tyler, Chief Executive, Northrop Grumman Europe, adding the output of the trial “will help the MoD to broaden its understanding of the effect that can be generated by its fifth-generation combat air fleet.”
Bridging this fifth-to-fourth generation platform interoperability gap was made possible by the inclusion of a Northrop Grumman FREEDOM 550 software-defined radio in the Airborne Gateway. The radio is derived from the integrated communications, navigation and identification avionics suite the company developed and manufactures for the F-35; it was validated under the Jetpack Joint Capability Technology Demonstration programme, an effort sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and USAF that concluded in 2014.
Northrop Grumman deployed a similar Airborne Gateway capability in March 2016 to support Australia’s Exercise Jericho Dawn 16-3, successfully demonstrating the powerful effects of integrated air and land operations during this live-fire exercise.