May 13, 2008 (by Air Combat Command) - F-22 Raptors recently demonstrated its viability in transferring real-time intelligence data between other aircraft and an air operations center as part of a joint experiment in a warfighting environment.
Two F-22 Raptors from the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf AFB, fly beside a KC-135 Stratotanker from 168th ARW on May 8, 2008 prior to refueling.
The data transfer was part of the third quarter Air Force Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2008, at Nellis AFB
, Nev., April 15 to 25.
08-3 combined real-world air and ground forces, simulation, and technology insertions as a venue for command and control and targeting technologies. Numerous Army, Navy, and Air Force weapon systems, including the F-22, participated in JEFX 08
The Raptors used test instrumentation to send and receive information such as command and control messaging, imagery, airspace updates, and even free text messages using a cockpit touch-screen color display. Although the download methods are not operational nor planned for operational use, the test demonstrated the F-22's utility for potential information-sharing technologies.
"JEFX gave us a chance to show we can offload information from the F-22 and how it can enhance the coalition and joint forces," said Col. James Firth, deputy director of requirements for Air Combat Command.
While the primary mission for the F-22 is to project air dominance, rapidly and at great distances, JEFX highlighted the Raptor's significant potential to connect all aircraft together to provide the best air picture to ground stations using an experimental version of a Tactical Targeting Network Technology or TTNT
TTNT is part of a wider Department of Defense technology effort to find, fix, track, target, engage and assess surface targets using a network-centric capability. The TTNT system made it possible for the F-22 to share imagery and information to other aircraft and people on the ground in real time.
TTNT is "a higher capacity and more rapid information tool - basically a wireless Internet," said Col. Jim Firth, ACC
deputy director of requirements. "We were able to essentially strap that on in a way that we probably wouldn't do operationally, but it still was a great stepping stone to show how we could off board information."
The system is only one of several potential systems the Air Force is considering for a new offloading information capability, said Colonel Firth. The new capability, which is anticipated to be in use regularly by 2015, won't be limited to just the F-22.
The Air Force is already using fighters and bombers for providing some level of surveillance and reconnaissance for intelligence purposes but such platforms currently lack the ability to send certain information, such as large images, back to a base from the aircraft.
In fact, every fighter and bomber aircraft in the Air Force inventory is an ISR platform, according to Lt. Col. Daryl Sassaman, Global Cyberspace Integration Center Modernization and Innovation division chief.
"Fighters and bombers are closer to the fight," he said, adding that such aircraft are typically in a position to take an image of an emerging target. Fighters and bombers used for non-traditional ISR, or NTISR
, include the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II.
Although such aircraft should remain focused on their primary missions, "if they are in an area of opportunity where they can take an image or relay information (sensor data)," they are a great enabler, he said.
Colonel Sassaman also said traditional ISR platforms don't necessarily operate in threatening environments - an area where NTISR can be most valuable. The F-22's combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and integrated avionics, can provide an additional level of ISR capabilities in an environment where U.S. armed forces are denied access.
"There are environments where there's advanced defensive systems that the enemy has where [only] the F-22 can go in and operate," said Colonel Firth. "And, by virtue of being there, it can collect information that's of great value to a lot of other users."
That makes the F-22 not just an air-to-air platform but an air-to-air platform that can also conduct a vast array of ISR and attack capabilities.
"It's certainly got world-class sensors," said Colonel Firth of the F-22. "And then you combine that with its ability to penetrate into environments where a lot of the platforms can't go which happens to be an environment where we want a lot of information. You put those together and it adds up to a great capability."
Regardless of the F-22's potential for NTISR, Colonel Firth said the focus for future technologies is not just on any single aircraft but rather on combining the information sharing capabilities from multiple platforms to create an overall perspective.
"Nowadays a lot of platforms have great sensors that have the ability to pick up good information in the battle space," said Colonel Firth, "and we really want all those platforms to be able to share so that you basically collect and combine the best information that everybody has to offer."
Because this technology is emerging, Colonel Firth said Defense Department leaders are working with the Air Force and other services to determine the best and most cost-effective way to meet airborne networking future requirements.