Recent improvements to the capabilities of the Combat Survivor Evader Locator radio are enhancing communications between an isolated person and rescue assets.
CSEL is a hand-held survival radio used with base stations located across the globe that provides critical search and rescue infrastructure for the joint services. Currently, it provides over-the-horizon and line-of-sight voice capabilities.
There are two new capabilities. The first is terminal area communications. TAC provides secure line-of-sight data from a pilot to an isolated person. An isolated person is someone such as a downed pilot or other combat force member who gets separated from their unit.
“Basically, TAC provides the ability for the pilot flying above and the isolated person, or IP, to text message each other securely,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Renner, CSEL test engineer.
Previously, the only option for direct communications with rescue assets was through voice transmissions.
The TAC improvement is two-fold. The radio enhancement is accomplished through a software update that completed development in the spring and is currently fielding. A hardware component, which is located onboard the rescue aircraft and is known as the CSEL interrogator module, is schedule to field later this year starting with A-10s.
“There’s never been anything like it for search and rescue,” said Renner. “The pilots we’ve worked with are really excited about it.”
Testing was done by A-10 pilots at the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center in Tucson, Ariz. These pilots were in the process of testing a series of upgrades to the A-10 operational flight program.
Because the group was already performing testing, the team at Hanscom was able to piggyback the new CSEL capabilities into that and therefore did not have to expend any additional funds for testing.
The second capability is terminal area guidance. TAG allows a rescue pilot to “ping” the radio of an isolated person.
From that ping, through onboard distance measuring equipment, the pilot is provided range and bearing to the location of the isolated person.
“This is important in an area where hostile forces may be trying to deny attempts at rescue,” said Renner.
The pilots who performed the testing were excited about the added functionality.
In the case of the TAG, they said it was more accurate than previous radios, according to Renner. However, for the CSEL team, it’s always about trying to get the isolated person back with their unit.
“These capabilities can reduce rescue time and give IPs another option to get home safely,” said Renner. “And that’s our ultimate goal.”
The field upgrade began this summer and will retrofit all Air Force radios with the TAC and TAG capabilities. For the future, the TAC capability will be integrated into other platforms performing the search and rescue mission, such as the HH-60 helicopter.