Defense

April 11, 2014

Link 16: The B-1B’s future link to the battle field

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SSgt. Joel Mease
Dyess AFB, Texas

Maj. Shane Garner, 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron, completes a flight in the first newly upgraded operational B1-B Lancer Jan. 21, 2014, at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The B-1B Lancer was recently upgraded with a new Integrated Battle Station. The new system includes a combination of three different upgrades. One major upgrade incorporates a modern datalink communication network that allows real-time communication with other aircraft, ground stations, and allied forces. The data link also enhances crew awareness of the battle space, and allows for quicker targeting.

During a speech in 1989, former President Ronald Regan discussed his thoughts on the Soviet Union’s philosophies of the time and said, “Information is the oxygen of the modern age … it seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire, it wafts across the electrified, booby-trapped borders. Breezes of electronic beams blow through the Iron Curtain as if it were lace.”

While the free flow of information was critical in taking down the Soviet Union, information has become even more important to the modern warfighter on the battlefield. The B-1B, itself a product of the 1980s, is now being upgraded with Link 16 as part of the Integrated Battle Station transformation the entire B-1B fleet is taking part of.

“The data link system, which is already found in the F-15, F-16, J-Stars, Rivet Joints and many other air platforms will now provide B-1B operators a complete picture of the battle space,” said Capt. Francis Hoar Jr., 7th Operations Support Squadron.

“This is what the B-1 has really been lacking, which introduces us to the modern fight and allows us to be completely integrated with all of our command and control assets.”

The system, which Hoar likens to the internet’s version of the Cloud, allows the operator to pull information from allied aircraft and ground components and build a tactical picture of the battlefield in real-time.

“An example of how Link 16 allows us to be better warfighters is before the operator in the B-1 would have to identify a target using a sniper pod and actually see the target,” Hoar said. “Now that target could be sent to us instantly, which cuts down time on the kill chain and allows us to strike within minutes.”

In addition, the data link provides pilots a graphic representation of what threats lay in front of the operator.

“As a pilot, this gives me additional situational awareness and allows me to have more information,” Hoar said. “This real-time display then allows me more freedom of movement, because I now know where all the threats are and what their capabilities are.”

Ground forces or command and control functions also will have the ability to send a digital image though the network to any B-1B that is upgraded with the Link 16 software.

“We can get an image sent to us from anyone that is linked to the data system and actively look for that image using the sniper pod on the B-1B and acquire it with our weapons system,” Hoar said. “This is just another tool we didn’t have before.”

Another feature that will improve the ability of the B-1B operators to perform in an active battlefield is the increased training Link 16 will provide.

“Our training will be greatly improved as our pilots will be able to cruise in real-time and engage a target with mock threats that appear real,” Hoar said. “The data link allows us to use a ground station to send virtual targets and threats, but they would appear to the operators as they would if they were real. This is just another way we can enhance our training, but do it at the same speed as if they were downrange.”

While it won’t be until approximately 2019 when the entire fleet sees the upgrade, the possibilities of what Link 16 can do has the entire B-1B community excited about the future of the bomber platform, Hoar said.

“This is the biggest advancement the Bone has ever seen in regards to integrating information with everyone else,” Hoar said. “It ultimately makes us much more effective and allows us to be a one-stop shop that is integrated with the rest of the combat Air Force.”




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