Tactical Communications

Smart Node Pods for battlefield communications pass first test

Northrop Grumman’s Smart Node Pod, an aircraft-mounted communications system intended to improve battlespace communications, successfully completed first production test flights in a demonstration for the Air Force.

A total of five flights were conduct to certify performance characteristics. The Smart Node Pod was able to transmit voice and digital messages, imagery, and full-motion video to air and ground forces, according to a Northrop announcement.   

The Smart Node Pod is Northrop’s solution for increasing communications capabilities on the front lines. The aircraft-mounted pod is designed to extend line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight, tactical data link and IP-based communications in the Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN).

The JALN program was originally developed to allow communications between fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, but since then has focused on allowing fighter network data to be used by ground forces. The Air Force recently announced plans to upgrade and protect the network. 

The pod would be able to connect to the high-altitude Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) platforms, ground operational centers, or other pods to provide high-level intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information. BACN platforms, which are mounted onto high-altitude aircraft and the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, are designed to work as an airborne communications relay and gateway system, enabling real-time information flow and translating data link information between diverse data networks.

"In this manner, Smart Node Pod has the capability to augment BACN in its anchor role as the persistent high altitude gateway of the Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN) by providing connectivity at the lower tier,” said Jeannie Hilger, Northrop’s vice president for Network Communications Systems. “Working in unison, Smart Node Pod and BACN have the potential to expand warfighter benefits by building out a multitier JALN architecture and providing network connectivity across the battlespace."

Northrop Grumman is under contract to produce both single-pod and multipod architecture systems and to deliver the systems to the Air Force through mid-summer of this year.

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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