A Hanscom team recently completed demonstrations that tested new techniques on tactical data links to increase data sharing in contested environments and improve warfighter readiness. The Tactical Data Link Enhancements Team, formed through a partnership between the Aerial Networks Division, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center, traveled to Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to test out their new Heimdall tactical data link system. The system uses innovative techniques to improve overall fighter performance in highly contested, near-peer environments.
The U.S., NATO, and coalition forces use TDLs for transmitting and exchanging real-time data among allies for shared situational awareness. The team demonstrated the new capability on an F-15C Eagle, modified at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and flown to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. There, it joined a C-12J Huron, also equipped with the new technology, to fly test missions over the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The team and aircraft then joined hundreds of other aircraft participating in exercise Northern Edge 21, based out of Eielson and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and flew test and exercise missions over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.
“The problem with TDL technologies is that they often take years to integrate, decades to field, and you can’t just flip a switch and get everyone on a new system,” said Dr. Bow-Nan Cheng, associate group leader, MIT LL. “With Heimdall, we were able to develop the technology in a way that enables a phased rollout. This not only provides immediate gains, but also increased performance for platforms willing to make long-term enhancements.”
“Heimdall provides a critical capability to existing tactical data links that ensures continued operation in future fights,” said Michael McAuliffe, program manager, Tactical Datalinks and Gateways Branch. “What our system does is provide the Air Force with an advanced capability not only for the aircraft of the future but the aircraft of today. We have to keep these current platforms relevant for the modern fight, and that’s our objective with Heimdall. During these demonstrations, we put our technology through a wide range of scenarios, against multiple categories of threats, and Heimdall performed successfully across the board.”
Prior to the month and a half of integration and testing, the team collaborated with over a dozen organizations to construct what McAuliffe believes was the most comprehensive and robust threat environment of its type, to date. Speaking on the installation of the hardware, McAuliffe believes it to be a relatively straightforward process, taking only three days to outfit the F-15C. If the system is fielded, this will ensure downtime for modification is kept to a minimum. The team is planning additional testing and development, but no future dates have been set. The TDL Enhancements Team is part of the Aerial Networks Division of the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks directorate, headquartered here.