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EA-18G Demonstrates New Targeting/Networking Capabilities

An EA-18G Growler from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) equipped with a new package of data network and sensor system upgrades flew in mid-July at NAS Patuxent River, Md., as part of the Trident Warrior 2013 exercise.

According to PMA-265 (the F/A-18 and EA-18G program office) and Boeing, the Growler demonstrated an array of “cooperative, passive geo-location techniques using time difference of arrival (TDOA), net-centric collaborative targeting (NCCT), and new internet protocol-based tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) radios for enhanced connectivity.”

Trident Warrior F-22 and T-38

A U.S. Air Force F-22 and T-38 during the Trident Warrior 2013 exercise. Air Force and Navy aircraft tested an experimental Joint Tactical Information Distribution System between fourth and fifth-generation fighters, demonstrating the capability to pass sensor information between the platforms. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. John D. Strong II

Boiling that down, the new package would allow EA-18G aircrews to locate threats more quickly and accurately, and share targeting data in real time via a secure high-speed network. Described as a “stand-off passive precision targeting package,” a similar system is already embedded in the E-2D Hawkeye.

PMA-265 worked collaboratively with an industry team including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, L-3 Communications, Harris and Rockwell Collins to integrate the new systems over an 18-month period. The effort began in January 2012 after Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) issued a “call for initiatives” and was made possible by a significant investment of industry research and development funds from Boeing and Northrop Grumman. The program office provided research and development funding to VX-23 for test support, culminating in the FLEX demonstration.

Another TW 13 exercise conducted during the FLEX period took place at Langley AFB, Va., combining USAF and USN aircraft to test an experimental Joint Tactical Information Distribution System between fourth and fifth-generation fighters. F-22 Raptors, F-15 Eagles, F-15 Strike Eagles, F/A-18 Hornets, T-38 Talons and E-2 Hawkeyes participated, demonstrating the capability to pass sensor information between the platforms. Heretofore, fifth-generation fighters (F-22s) were only able to share sensor information with fighters of the same generation, while fourth-generation tactical aircraft could only send information to their more technologically advanced counterparts.

FLEX (Fleet Experimentation) is the centralized lead for U.S. Navy fleet experimentation directed by U.S. Fleet Forces Command. The program streamlines the process of experimenting with fleet assets by aligning efforts into an organized execution plan. The results are a holistic approach to collaborative and synchronized experimentation among government agencies, joint and coalition partners, industry and academia.

Trident Warrior (TW) is the venue for FLEX, facilitating temporary deployments of advanced capabilities on Navy assets to collect real-world data and feedback from fleet users during an underway experimentation period. New tactics, techniques and procedures are also studied and developed during the experimentation period.

Gulfstream Trident Warrior

A modified Gulfstream jet returns from flying in support of the Trident Warrior exercise at Langley Air Force Base, Va., July 18, 2013. The Gulfstream served as a communications hub while testing the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, a network radio system designed to meet the requirements of modern tactical air combat. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. John D. Strong II

According to NAVAIR, “the theme for Trident Warrior 13 experimentation was Netted Sensors to improve maritime networks, stand-off collaboration, and interoperability in order to overcome anti-access, area denial challenges. The scenarios and vignettes that were developed for this demonstration exercised line-of-sight, beyond-line-of-sight, and IP-based voice and data networks enabling greater precision for the warfighter.”

Eighteen experiments, representing different ways of applying existing technologies, were demonstrated as part of TW 13 in an effort to identify technologies and products that help cost-effectively fill warfighter capability gaps.

Another TW 13 exercise conducted during the FLEX period took place at Langley AFB, Va., combining USAF and USN aircraft to test an experimental Joint Tactical Information Distribution System between fourth and fifth-generation fighters. F-22 Raptors, F-15 Eagles, F-15 Strike Eagles, F/A-18 Hornets, T-38 Talons and E-2 Hawkeyes participated, demonstrating the capability to pass sensor information between the platforms. Heretofore, fifth-generation fighters (F-22s) were only able to share sensor information with fighters of the same generation, while fourth-generation tactical aircraft could only send information to their more technologically advanced counterparts.

Boeing says the technology could be incorporated into deployed Growlers by 2018, but the program office is careful to stress that the new package is not yet funded.

The Growler demonstration was successful and well received. Further system and radar analysis is under way to identify additional upgrade requirements. “PMA-265 hopes to transition the time difference of arrival (TDOA) geo-location and secure, high speed tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) network technology into the Growler in the future.”

Boeing says the technology could be incorporated into deployed Growlers by 2018, but the program office is careful to stress that the new package is not yet funded.

“This was a demonstration effort, however, and to realize the full capability it would need to be a fully funded program of record and tested through our normal developmental test and operational test processes.”

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Jan Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...