November 16, 2016

Northrop Grumman smart node pod provides airborne gateway

Northrop Grumman demonstrated how its Smart Node Pod improves battlefield communications and information sharing across a wide variety of networks and mission threads during Bold Quest, a coalition capability demonstration and assessment event sponsored twice yearly by the Joint Staff at the Department of Defense.

Bold Quest 16.2 was conducted in the Savannah area from mid-October through early November.

The aircraft-mounted Smart Node Pod provided an airborne gateway between disparate tactical and IP-based datalinks to extend communications connectivity and increase digital interoperability among U.S. and coalition forces. The Smart Node Pod system is based on combat-proven technology – with more than 100,000 combat flight hours and counting – that Northrop Grumman developed for the U.S. Air Force. The Smart Node Pod is an excellent example of Northrop Grumman’s end-to-end approach to integrated Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR).  

The multipod design version of Smart Node Pod supported Bold Quest 16.2 as a mid-tier airborne communications gateway on an O-2 Skymaster, which served as a surrogate for a MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft. During the demonstration, the Smart Node Pod enabled emerging digitally aided close air support technologies, Link 16 network relay, air-to-air high-capacity backbone enabled by the Common Data Link, Tactical Data Link (TDL) gateway and beyond line-of-sight TDL communications. It also demonstrated an emerging translation capability between Variable Message Format and Link 16 messages.  

All the gateway functions were performed on the airborne node using the existing Smart Node Pod design, which avoided the complexity of having to send data down to the ground for retransmission and the expense of any hardware modifications to the Smart Node Pod or the aircraft.

 “Smart Node Pod is truly ‘radio independent.’ Regardless of the radio system or waveform, it can extend the communications range – radio to radio – for deployed users,” said Jeannie Hilger, vice president, communications business, airborne C4ISR systems division, Northrop Grumman. “Its capability to operate across such a diverse group of communications resources – from the emerging Soldier Radio Waveform to older, widely deployed Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System – demonstrates that Smart Node Pod can significantly improve communication and information sharing. It also solves the challenge of ground soldiers maintaining connectivity across unforgiving terrain and avoids the expense of having to purchase and integrate the newer waveforms into existing aviation platforms.”

One of the enabling technologies at the core of the Smart Node Pod is the Resilient Network Controller, an intelligent network manager that enables RF network interoperability between legacy tactical data links and IP-based systems. It hosts a variety of applications (including the Northrop Grumman Gateway Manager tactical router) and provides state-of-the art mission visualization tools and the algorithms necessary to manage the increasingly complex and ad hoc “network-of- networks” topologies emerging in today’s digital battlefield.

“The combination of the Resilient Network Controller with the small form factor Smart Node Pod provides a powerful, aerial tier capability that not only satisfies current Army communication challenges but also provides a forward-looking technology platform that can be leveraged to support cyber, electronic warfare and other missions that rely on high performance networks for their success,” Hilger said.

Smart Node Pod was first flown on the Northrop Grumman Firebird aircraft at Mojave, California, July 27, 2012. In a series of ground and flight tests during 2013, the pod successfully linked with an aircraft serving as an in-flight aerial gateway to demonstrate how multiple interconnected aerial gateways operating in unison can effectively and flexibly extend the range of communications and data sharing among different radio systems. Northrop Grumman has also successfully linked Smart Node Pod with the Army’s High Antenna for Radio Communications system, demonstrating it can enhance information communication connectivity between ground, air and remote network nodes.

Northrop Grumman is the leader in developing Airborne Gateways and integrating the technology on manned and unmanned platforms, pods and mobile ground and surface locations. Among the company’s successful deployments of Airborne Gateway capabilities, it supported Australia’s Exercise Jericho Dawn 16-3 in March 2016.

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