New Data Link Enables Stealthy Comms for F-35

Air Force Times // July 19, 2013

Pentagon officials have long identified the F-35 joint strike fighter as key to the future of America’s defense, in large part due to stealth capabilities that should allow the plane to travel in contested environments that older fighters would struggle to penetrate.

The problem is, these planes need to talk to each other without sacrificing stealth. A key aspect for operating in contested airspace is the ability to transfer information between planes without losing their stealthy capabilities. To tackle that problem, the F-35 has incorporated Northrop Grumman’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), a system that’s undergoing testing in the California desert.

MADL is a digital waveform that is designed for secure transmission of voice and data between F-35s, with the potential of linking F-35s to ground stations or other aircraft, Northrop said.

Think of the system as a computer. The communications, navigation and identification (CNI) system on an F-35 can manage 27 different waveforms, including MADL. The data comes through the antenna, is turned into digitized bits, and is crunched by the on-board systems to get the relevant information to the pilots.

The system will be included in the 2B software package that the Marine Corps’ F-35B jump-jet variant and the Air Force’s F-35A conventional take-off-and-landing version will use when they declare initial operating operational capability capacity (IOC) in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It also will be included in all international versions of the jet. The Navy’s F-35C carrier variant is expected to reach IOC in 2019 with the block 3F software, which will incorporate MADL and other capabilities.

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