Monday, July 22, 2013

F-35: Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL)

A question that is continually asked by many curious about why we need the F-35 is "what makes it so special"?  The short answer is "its advanced capabilities" such as MADL (among many others).

I wanted to take this opportunity to feature a write-up about the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) made by Northrup Grumman.  We featured the EOTS and jamming system previously.  What MADL does is allow the F-35 to share data securely without compromising its position.  That allows an ability to build unparalleled situational awareness that is a distinct advantage.

So, here's the short version of what MADL is:
MADL is a digital waveform that is designed for secure transmission of voice and data between F-35s, with the potential of linking F-35s to ground stations or other aircraft, Northrop said.

Think of the system as a computer. The communications, navigation and identification (CNI) system on an F-35 can manage 27 different waveforms, including MADL. The data comes through the antenna, is turned into digitized bits, and is crunched by the on-board systems to get the relevant information to the pilots.
Okay, you say, sounds great.  But why is that so special? 
What makes MADL more than just a communications tool is its ability to connect with other planes and automatically share situational awareness data between fighters. The more planes in the network the greater the data shared and the more comprehensive a picture is formed.

Picture a group of jets flying in formation. The pilot farthest to the right will have a different situational awareness picture than the pilot on the left. But once they’re networked together, all the information is automatically shared amongst the pilots.

Prior to takeoff, planes would be designated with partners to form the network. When a plane gets within range, the network is automatically created.

“Like on your computer, your network into the local area, we’re building that network in the sky and it’s keeping up with all the dynamics and spatial changes,” said Bob Gough, director of CNI technology and programs at Northrop, said. “MADL has the smarts to keep up with all of that and keep the network in place so they can share the same data.”

 Gough declined to say how close jets need to be to trigger the network link but did say tests have shown “very fast” acquisition times once within range.

Live flight system tests at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., began late last year and have continued throughout this year. Initially, the tests involved networking a pair of planes, but recently, test pilots began regularly flying four-shipplane networks. Those tests are proceeding smoothly, said Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Defense Department’s F-35 JSF Joint Program Office.

“MADL testing is performing as planned,” DellaVedova wrote in an email. “Development of the advanced data link is currently tracking to deliver the phased capability expected by the end of development.”

The system is designed for plane-to-plane communications only, something Gough expects to continue for the near- term. But he did not rule out experimenting with data transfer to other terminals.
So, advanced situational awareness that is currently available for other aircraft with the obvious possibility of being shared with any number of other platforms in the area.  A definite advantage over, one would assume, potential enemies.

Another of the advantages the F-35's advanced capabilities will give our pilots (and military) in the future.


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