SATURN radio connects U.S. forces to allies

A joint terminal attack controller performs an operational assessment of a held radio at the Nevada Test and Training Range March 23, 2016. The Air-to-Ground, Tactical Data Links team at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. is currently working to upgrade radio technology across the services by providing an anti-jam, hack-proof, and high-frequency radio system by 2024. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Nathan Byrnes)

To improve communication with allies, the Air-to-Ground, Tactical Data Links team, headquartered at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., has been working to provide the Department of Defense with an anti-jam, hack-proof, and high-frequency radio system.

In July 2018, the DOD Chief Information Officer mandated that the Second Generation Anti-Jam Tactical Ultra-High Frequency Radio for NATO, or SATURN, will replace the current HAVE QUICK II system across all services by Oct. 1, 2024.

The upgrade to SATURN will provide U.S. forces with an improved radio resistant to jamming through fast-frequency hopping and digital modulation techniques. 

“Since all the services use ultra-high-frequency voice components in their tactical air-to-air and air-to-ground voice communications, the entire DOD will benefit from this upgrade,” said Eugene Johnson, program manager. “SATURN will provide a more resilient, ultra-high frequency voice communications capability for operations in contested environments, and also a clearer and better performing voice capability in benign environments.”

Estimates suggest that over 18,000 radios using HAVE QUICK II must be replaced with the ultra-high frequency technology.

“The impact that SATURN will have across the DOD fleet is huge,” said Capt. Shaun Perry, a former program manager. “Technology has caught up with jamming environments, and it is more important than ever for us to be connected on the same frequencies as our NATO allies.”

The Air Force, along with several NATO allies and the MITRE Corp., worked together to develop an early version of SATURN at Hanscom in the 1980s. Although France and the United Kingdom adopted SATURN in 1989, the U.S. declined because of the high cost associated with fielding.

The specifications that allow for international interoperability of SATURN are detailed in a NATO standardization agreement. The team uses these specifications as the basis for developing their version of SATURN.

“What we’re doing for our U.S. version is developing 16 optional modes so that our radio is not only interoperable with our NATO allies, but we have international specification across the entire industry,” said Perry. “This technology already exists, so it just makes sense for the U.S. to get onboard with SATURN.”

The Air-to-Ground Tactical Data links team is currently developing a budget proposal for the anticipated fielding of SATURN.

Air to Ground, Tactical Data Links is a branch of the Aerial Networks Division of the Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence and Networks directorate.

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