KC-135 takes important step toward ABMS

  • Published
  • By Maj. Amber R Schatz
  • Air National Guard

A KC-135 piloted by Airmen from the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserves passed an important integration and modernization milestone during a recent flight here. During the flight, the total force crew tested for any electromagnetic spectrum interference between the aircraft’s navigation system and tactical datalinks (TDL) in an effort to highlight the KC-135’s readiness to serve a bigger role of the Air Force’s innovative Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) architecture.

The total force team, consisting of members from the 151st and the 927th Air Refueling Wings (ARW) of the Utah National Guard and MacDill AFB respectively, conducted Real Time In Cockpit (RTIC) tests to confirm that there was no interference between the LINK-16 radio system and the Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) system.

The LINK-16 is a tactical datalink system used by most fighter jets and command and control platforms for encrypted data communication in combat environments, and the TACAN system is the range and bearing navigation source used for instrument flight. These two platforms work on the same frequency, and it is vital they do not interfere with each other in order to ensure the reliability of the communication and navigation sources.

“Electromagnetic interference would give erroneous navigation indication to the crew that could potentially draw the aircraft off its required course,” said Maj. Travis Posey, 927 ARW Weapons and Tactics Flight commander, and a KC-135 pilot. “We want our aircraft to operate where they are expected and not crash into other aircraft, obstacles, or terrain.”

Satellite communications enable JREAP-A protocol to communicate with Command and Control (C2) agencies, which is used in all forms of operation to combat and combat support. Enabling encrypted C2 beyond the line of sight ensures continuity of operations and enables the operating picture to be understood even when aircraft are not in line-of-sight communication. This reduces the fog and friction of operations.

“We did not know what the actual range was of this system due to antenna placement, radio capabilities, and ground station placement,” Posey said. “We exceeded our expectations and can achieve TDL communications beyond most voice radio communications we currently have between our aircraft and base command posts.”

According to a recent Department of the Air Force white paper, the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) initiative is designed to generate decision superiority by delivering relevant information and capabilities to warfighters and operators at all echelons. While not a single machine, sensor, or aircraft, the ABMS’s system of systems – or warfighting ecosystem - will streamline the many pathways for data to move around the globe. Through tactical edge communication nodes and advanced beyond-line-of-sight technologies, ABMS promises to shorten the data loop from days and hours to minutes and seconds.

Aerial refueling aircraft like the KC-135 show promise as one of the critical nodes in the ABMS system, and with 42 percent of Total Force KC-135s residing in the ANG, and ANG KC-135s flying 46 percent of the day-to-day aerial refueling missions in support of TRANSCOM in FY20, establishing their ABMS bona fides could not come at a better time.
This test flight was extremely valuable because without modern communication methods, the KC-135 will be left outside the capabilities to participate in ABMS, added Posey.