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Maj Olivia Elliott examines the LITENING II advanced targeting pod mounted on her A 10 Thunderbolt II

Air Force turns fighter planes into wireless routers

The U.S. Air Force recently announced that it had completed testing on a new “flying wireless router” system  that will help give ground forces real-time tactical information in the field.

The main difference between this router and a typical one is that this one is attached to fighter planes. It is essentially a software upgrade called Net-T, for network tactical, that is designed for the advanced targeting pods on some fighters and the B-1 bomber.

Ground units had been communicating with aircraft using the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver-5 (ROVER-5), which is a small, arm-mounted touchscreen device about the size of a mini-tablet. These units could only communicate to planes in the air but not to other ROVER-5 units, which were likely out of their line-of-sight. But with the Net-T upgrade, ROVER-5 units can communicate directly with each other using the plane as a wireless router.

"The pilot still needs to be able to operate the pod effectively, even though ground troops could be sending data to each other using this enhancement," said Maj. Olivia Elliott, the 40th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) A-10 flight commander who flew all of the required test missions for the A-10 Thunderbolt II (pictured above).

Once pilots initiate the transmit-in-Net-T mode on the pod, they don’t need to worry about it anymore, and can go about their already busy jobs. "It's a single button push," Elliott said. "After that the pilot must maintain within the range of the Rover's transmitter and stay within view of the users. There's little to no interference with airborne operations of the targeting pod."

The test team, operating out of Elgin Air Force Base, Fla., tested the router’s range as well as its capacity, by keeping track of the file sizes and types of files sent during the tests.

The 40th FLTS is still compiling the data from its testing, but once the results are released, it looks as if Net-T will be added to operational aircraft by 2014. Having closer to real-time data from various positions on the ground can only improve the speed and accuracy of command decisions.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Jan 24, 2013 at 9:39 AM


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