JSTARS flies into Internet Age

An E-8C command and control aircraft will fly into the Internet Age this month, using a form of communication developed early in the last century — high-frequency, single sideband (HF SSB) radio.

The radio technology will provide Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) warfighters with access to the Defense Department's classified intranet during the annual Red Flag combat exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada this month.

The operational test also will use a variety of other radios aboard the heavily modified $113 million Boeing Co. 707 aircraft. The planes are equipped with JSTARS to provide connections from multiple onboard battle commander workstations to DOD's classified Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET).

If the test is successful, similar systems could be developed for use on other Air Force command and control aircraft as well as airlifters, such as C-17s and C-130s, which Air Mobility Command operates, said Dan Hague, an electronics engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y. He helped develop the system.

Although the E-8C JSTARS planes have a number of sophisticated systems onboard, including a multimode side-looking radar that can detect enemy ground targets at a distance of 150 miles, they have lacked Internet connectivity until now, said Lt. Col. Chris Jones, chief of battle management command and control at the Air Force Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

The new system, dubbed Interim Capability for Airborne Networking (ICAN), will support applications such as chat and e-mail attachments that Internet users take for granted. Those applications were previously unavailable to the JSTARS crew due to the lack of links to and from the aircraft that could support IP traffic, Jones said. "We're trying to show the utility of IP communications" to airborne warfighters, he said.

The ICAN system allows the onboard radio operator to allocate a portion of the JSTARS radios to support data traffic, with control of the radios provided by an Ampro PC/104 computer running Linux software, Hague said.

The Linux software handles all the link-layer protocols as well as routing Internet traffic such as e-mail and allowing access to classified Web pages and chats, he said.

Besides the HF SSB radio system, a technology patented by communications pioneer John Carson in 1915, the ICAN system also uses UHF and VHF line-of-sight radios and a low-data-rate satellite link for connectivity, said Nick Gritti, senior program manager for advanced architectures in Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Integrated Systems Division, which developed JSTARS for the Air Force and Army.

But, Jones said, JSTARS crews will not have high-speed connections. ICAN operates via narrow-band radios, providing the crews with the equivalent of dial-up modem speeds, in the range of 9,600 bits/sec to

48 kilobits/sec. The onboard ICAN controller prioritizes traffic over these tight links, ensuring that the most important traffic gets through, Hague said. For example, the controller's software can make sure enough bandwidth is available to transmit a high-priority targeting image ahead of more routine e-mail messages, he added.

Gritti said Northrop Grumman officials helped develop the ICAN hardware in a way that did not require extensive modification of the aircraft or its wiring. Only a black box with the PC/104 hardware in a standard 19-inch rackmount was added.

Office in the sky

The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is not the only command and control aircraft taking the Internet to the air.

Officials at the Air Force Flight Test Center have equipped a Boeing 707 called Speckled Trout with an onboard local-area network capable of accessing the Internet via satellite links.

Officials at the test center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., conducted a flight test of the Speckled Trout LAN on a cross-country flight in late November, providing onboard staff with access to both the Internet and the military's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network via Inmarsat Ltd. satellite links. They plan to conduct global tests of the system, which was developed in partnership with the Air Force Network Systems Office at Gunter Annex, Ala.

Capt. Julie Elenbaum, test and engineering flight commander for the 412th Flight Test Squadron, said in a statement that the Speckled Trout LAN provides top Air Force commanders with "an office in the sky. The goal is to give them the same capabilities they would have in their offices at the Pentagon."

— Bob Brewin

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