New tech allows aircraft using different data links to communicate.
The Enterprise Mission Computer 2.0, a system that will allow older generation aircraft to communicate with newer F-35 and F-22 aircraft, flew for the first time aboard Lockheed Martin’s latest U-2 Dragon Lady surveillance aircraft at the Northern Edge joint exercise last month.
The Enterprise Mission Computer 2.0, nicknamed the “Einstein Box” due to its abbreviation of EMC2, was developed by Skunk Works, a division of Lockheed Martin dedicated to advanced aircraft programs.
The EMC2 is designed to be stealthy, operate at high-altitude, increase the line-of-sight scope necessary for directional data transmissions, and overcome the communication barrier between different generations of aircraft, which is a result of the different data links they use., according to a Lockheed program manager.
Secured to the avionics processor of an aircraft, the EMC2 could reconfigure the wavelengths of incoming communication signals to ensure compatibility between the different tactical data links of transmitting aircraft. Though the exact details of the technology are not yet available, the first generation system, the EMC1, operated using the Link 16 frequency, which it intercepted and secured using encrypting technology onboard an F-22, according to a Lockheed press release.
Tactical data links are the networks used to transmit text, images, and voice messages via radio waves or cables between different data sources, such as aircraft, naval vessels, and ground forces. According to Air Force statements, each data link has a specific data link terminal, protocol, and radio frequency.
Air Force aircraft operate on one of three different tactical data links: Link 16, multifunction advanced data link (MADL), and the intra-flight data link (IFDL). Link 16 is used by the older generation aircraft, such as the F-15 and F/A-18, and operates using the Joint Tactical Information Distribution Systems data link terminal, as reported by a Northrop Grumman publication.
Link 16 is capable of transmitting high volumes of data, however, the radio frequency it operates on is highly susceptible to detection and interference. Newer generation aircraft are still able to operate on Link 16, but risk exposing their location by doing so.
The MADL is used by the F-35 aircraft, and is designed for use by aircraft in stealth mode. It has a high data capacity and operates within a radio frequency of about 20 to 30 GHz, according to Northrop.
IFDL was developed for F-22 aircraft communications and emphasizes security, using low-probability-of-detection/low-probability-of-intercept data link technology.
Serving as a platform for the EMC2 gave the U-2 Dragon Lady its first opportunity to fly as part of the biennial Northern Edge joint exercise, according to a Department of Defense press release.
“By merging test development, operational test and experimental technologies, we are looking at opportunities to advance the U-2 program,” said Air Force Maj. Brian, Director of Operations for U-2 and RQ-4 Global Hawk operational tests. “We are encompassing the entire spectrum of the future of the U-2.”
The U-2 Dragon Lady was selected as the testing platform because its size, power, and cooling mechanisms enable it to carry a diverse array of payloads. It is also part of Lockheed’s push toward implementing open architecture in their technologies.
“A truly open architecture…allows us to integrate software services, third-party applications, [and] new capabilities quickly without impacting the system architecture of the platform that we are flying on,” explained Renee Pasman, Director of Mission Systems for Skunk Works. “The Einstein box is the latest step…along that investment plan.”