2015-08-03 With the stand-up of the first operational F-35 squadron comes the IOC for the new data link for the F-35 fleet.
The operational advantages of the new CNI system were highlighted by Major General Silveria of the Warfare Center at Nellis AFB.
The plane has NONE of the items that traditionally on airplanes to transmit and receive. It does not have any of those.
What it has is a rack two CNI (Combat, Navigation and Identification),com ad navigation racks.
It has two racks and you tell the airplane: I would like to transmit in the UHF wave form and it generates that wave form and transmits in the UHF wave form; which is a difficult concept to think about.
There is no UHF radio on the airplane.
There is no ILS on the airplane.
If I want an ILS I have to go in, tap on my glass, and say, hey, good morning jet, I’m going to need an ILS today so I need you to generate the ILS waveform when I need it.
What does this mean in terms of performance and maintainability?
I do not have to maintain what is not there; I do not need to be affected by failure rates of systems that are no longer there.
Let me use the example of the IFF transponder, which I do not have on the plane as a separate system. On an F-15 E, you can walk to the ramp and open up a panel and you can find a little box that has all sorts of cannon plugs on it and it would say ITT transponder.
And if it fails during the operation, when you come back you tell maintenance, it does not work.
They’d undue the cannon plugs, they’d pull out this IFF, they’d send it to the back shop, they’d go through all the testing, they’d figure out, they’d fix it, and it would come back.
They would put another one in. Well, this airplane doesn’t have that to either fail or to fix.
Earlier, we looked at the role of the MADL data link for the laydown of the F-35 global fleet.
In a piece published on October 28, 2014, we looked at the coming of the MADL data link.
A key element shaping integrated air-enabled combat capability for the evolving F-35 fleet is clearly the communications and data link system built into the aircraft.
One of the core combat capabilities built into the aircraft is the CNI system or the Communications, Navigation and Identification system.
To get an update on the MADL data link within the CNI system, an interview was conducted in late July 2014 with two former USAF pilots and officers, who now work with Northrop Grumman, where MADL has been developed, to discuss its status and evolution and the approach to moving forward.
Fred Cheney is now a director of business development for Northrop Grumman Information Systems Communications Division, and formerly served with the USAF in the Pacific and Iraq operations.
Mike Edwards, a former USAF commander as well, is a director on staff with Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Question: What is MADL?
Fred Cheney: MADL stands for Multi-Function Advanced Data Link.
It operates in what is now being called anti-access and area denial operations where low observable capability is clearly crucial to mission success and you are linking those elements most central to shaping an entry and dominance strategy.
Its origins are from the communications and data links built for the F-22.
The IFDLlink has been designed to allow F-22s to work with other F-22s to enhance low observable performance.
It is designed to have Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) and Low Probability of Detection (LPD).
When the F-35 was being designed, designers were looking for that same kind of LPI and LPD capability but wanted to correct some of the shortfalls identified.
It is also the case that the F-35 was designed from the ground up to share data among the fleet and to operate in the combat environment in an integrated manner to deliver combat effects.
MADL is a different system than that carried by the F-22 and has longer-range, better throughput, and shares more data to support both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
The point though is that MADL has been built on experience with the F-22; it is not just a system that was built simply from briefing charts.
And when the F-35 was first conceived, the legacy high-low mix was in the forefront.
Question: The F-35 and its combat systems have evolved and the impact of an integrated fleet of F-35s contemplated, the F-35 has emerged as a foundational 21st century capability.
You are not thinking high-low mix anymore; you are really thinking in terms of fleets, F-35, F-22, and legacy and the way to provide for better force integration going forward.
This means that clearly you are looking at ways to work on cross-linking as well?
Fred Cheney: We are. On the Gulfstream II, we were able to connect F-35s and F-22s, because the new terminal actually has both Intra-Flight Data-Link (IFDL) and MADL in it.
Using that airplane, we were able to connect to both types of airplanes at the same time and transfer data between F-22s and F-35s.
In fact, MADL was designed based on prior experience with the F-22 to shape an integrated waveform for low observable operations, and can be leveraged for working to support combat operations throughout a joint or coalition force.
Question: But it seems clear that because the F-35 is an air-to-ground platform, MADL has been thought of differently, I would assume?
It seems clear that one is looking to leverage data and information for combat effectiveness via MADL.
Fred Cheney: It is. In fact, it is best to think of the integrated impact of an F-35 fleet to be understood best as an information superiority combat capability.
And one is looking to ways to leverage its evolution as an information superiority fleet – versus simply an air platform providing situational awareness.
A way to look at the way ahead is to focus on the fleet working with joint or coalition C2 nodes to inform the leadership of the joint and coalition force of the evolving combat situation and to deliver effects throughout the rapidly evolving combat situation.
We are not thinking here in terms of information going to a centralized Air Combat Operations Center; we are thinking in terms of evolving distributed approaches, which allow combat to be directed and supported by resilient networks.
Clearly, an F-35 fleet can deliver integrated combat capability with the MADL sharing tool set; and then the question is how best to connect C2 nodes with that fleet, and how best to move relevant information from the fleet to appropriate combat elements.
There is no reason you cannot put MADL on ships, on other planes or on ground receivers.
In fact, as I mentioned before we recently tested a MADL radio system aboard a Gulfstream II and with F-35s, demonstrating one can now have a MADL-to-MADL link to other platforms.
OSD has deemed MADL to be the anti-access waveform, so finding ways to operate the waveform among forces will be important going forward.
It can also be overlooked that with MADL and the global F-35 enterprise we have created a coalition sharing integrated capability, which has never been done before.
It may be through the evolution of C2 nodes that MADL will be linked to the legacy fleet as well.
With the emergence of an initial MADL system, why wouldn’t you reuse that?
Why wouldn’t you start to pull that MADL waveform into other nodes, given that it is already paid for by the F-35 program, as well as inherently coalition common?
Question: Clearly putting the F-35 fleet into the hands of the war fighters will see significant change and probably more rapidly than people anticipate?
How do you think of the role of the USMC in all of this and the positive impact of the USMC being a lead service in deploying the first F-35 squadrons?
Mike Edwards: It is very positive in one very important way: the Marines are a smaller and more tightly integrated force.
They will work very hard to draw every capability they can out of a combat system, and in this sense, the F-35 will be no different.
But given its integrated combat capability, figuring out how to leverage it for the overall integrated Marine Corps force will be a high priority for them.
And this can also see a similar process with coalition partners.
Because with a smaller force, they will be looking at how are they going to reapply what they have in their tool kit to solve those problems?
And that’s where the new think starts to occur.
Question: We have been looking at how the Marines have evolved their KC-130Js and have deployed Harvest Hawk.
One USMC pilot highlighted that in his mind, there is no reason that they could not have MADL on board and distribute what is relevant to the ground forces as part of their approach to close air support.
Would the system you are testing be relevant to this possibility?
Mike Edwards: Indeed, it would, and it gets to the most fundamental point – where the C2 node is can vary; but having a robust data and communications link which is empowered by an integrated fleet of combat aircraft, provides significant possibilities for innovation.
And we are on the cusp of significant innovations.
We are the period of discovery with what we can do with MADL and an integrated air combat fleet of F-35s can deliver to the combat force.
We don’t even know yet what the full potential is.
And we may not know for a while until we hit one of those hard problems.
And then some young, bright person says hey, you know what? If we did X, Y, and Z, we could actually solve this problem.
And we have cases of that occurring all the time in combat situations.
And that’s one of the things that I think makes our military so great.
Fred Cheney: There is another aspect of the way ahead which is important to highlight as well, and that is logistics costs.
The Link 16 experience demonstrates how quasi-commonality limits supportability.
There are many vendors of Link 16 terminals all around the world, and you then lose the advantage of having economies of scale.
And you think logistics isn’t very exciting or interesting, but it takes a lot of dollars that you would rather spend on combat capabilities if you do not leverage commonality and global sourcing of common parts.
And commonality is both important and a continuing challenge.
Commonality is built into the aircraft; the challenge will be keep commonality built in, for there will be the temptation to think this is a replacement aircraft and data system, and there will be tendency to think in terms of interoperability rather than integration provided by an F-35 fleet where the various services and partners can seamlessly share data and provide information to the C2 nodes, which will evolve appropriate to 21stcentury operations.
You’ve got to be careful, however, that you don’t develop a problem like Link 16 has with interoperability.
People started to tinker with it, and all of a sudden we lost track of being able to talk with every coalition partner, and the Air Force being able to talk to Navy.
It’s very important to do improvements, but they must be done as a fleet.
And with the declaration of IOC for the F-35B, Northrop Grumman released this press release on August 3, 2015:
With the U.S. Marine Corps achieving F-35B initial operating capability (IOC), the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) waveform developed by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has been proven a key combat-ready capability of the F-35 Lightning II program.
MADL is a high-data-rate, directional communications link that allows fifth-generation aircraft to communicate and coordinate tactics covertly. During testing of the Lockheed Martin F-35, MADL exceeded 1,000 flight hours.
The Marine Corps declared the F-35B short takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) aircraft and the first squadron – Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), known as the Green Knights – officially operational July 31. VMFA-121, based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, is equipped with 10 aircraft.
“Northrop Grumman congratulates the Marine Corps on their achievement of this momentous F-35 milestone,” said Jeannie Hilger, vice president and general manager, communications division, Northrop Grumman Information Systems. “The successful completion of IOC also validates Northrop Grumman’s more than 10-year effort to advance communication among fifth-generation aircraft.”
MADL is part of Northrop Grumman’s F-35 integrated communications, navigation and identification (CNI) avionics and an important element of the F-35 Block 2 software release. Northrop Grumman has delivered 181 CNI systems to Lockheed Martin, the F-35 prime contractor.
Since August 2012, MADL has been used continuously to support a variety of developmental and operational objectives during testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Block 2B MADL testing culminated with four F-35s demonstrating that data passed among the aircraft via MADL could be correlated with data from other F-35 sensors and fused to form a unified situational awareness picture on cockpit displays.
“In addition to fifth-to-fifth, Northrop Grumman’s CNI system also provides a core capability for fifth-to-fourth generation networked data sharing and unparalleled interoperability,” Hilger said, citing a series of operational flight tests under the Jetpack Joint Capability Technology Demonstration program.
As part of the Jetpack JCTD program, Northrop Grumman developed the Freedom 550™ software-defined radio that bridges fifth-to-fourth generation platform interoperability gaps. Jetpack JCTD, which concluded in 2014, was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, Pacific Command and OSD’s Defense Microelectronics Activity.
Northrop Grumman’s integrated CNI system provides to F-35 pilots the equivalent capability of over 27 avionics subsystems. By using its industry-leading software-defined radio technology, Northrop Grumman’s design allows the simultaneous operation of multiple critical functions while greatly reducing size, weight and power demands on the advanced fighter. These functions include Identification Friend or Foe, automatic acquisition of fly-to points, and various voice and data communications, including MADL, which was approved by the U.S. Department of Defense Joint Requirements Oversight Council for use on all low-observable platforms.
As a principal member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 industry team, Northrop Grumman performs a significant share of the work required to develop and produce the aircraft. In addition to developing and producing the CNI system, Northrop Grumman produces the center fuselage; designed and produces the AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System sensor and the aircraft’s radar and electro-optical subsystem; develops mission systems and mission planning software; leads the team’s development of pilot and maintenance training system courseware; and manages the team’s use, support and maintenance of low-observable technologies.