Air Force preps seamless ROBE

The Air Force has selected a vendor team for the Roll-On Beyond-line-of-sight Enhancement (ROBE) program, a tactical combat communications system designed to seamlessly integrate beyond-line-of-sight and line-of-sight networks.

Northrop Grumman Information Technology, Modern Technologies Corp. and ARINC Inc. are developing the system, which provides seamless, secure, near-instant distribution of battle space and command and control information to warfighters, local commanders and higher commands worldwide.

The system is a roll-on and roll-off pallet designed to extend the range of communications and will allow all warfighters to have the same situational awareness, whether en route, engaged or air refueling, according to the service.

In the evolution of ROBE, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper has described a vision of using air refueling tankers as airborne "nodes" of a warfighting network. And James Roche, secretary of the Air Force, endorsed the system in March of 2002.

The Air Force tested a KC-135 tanker equipped with ROBE in October 2002. The flight demonstrated ROBE's capabilities by relaying real-time situational awareness data between an F-15 Eagle, an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft operating over Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and an operations center at Hanscom Air Force Base, according to Air Force Electronic Systems Center public affairs.

Northrop Grumman IT estimates that work on ROBE will be worth about $9 million over two years.

Barry Rhine, president of defense mission systems at Northrop Grumman IT, said the new contract draws on the company's experience in providing combat communications and is an "opportunity to provide near real-time pictures of wartime operations."

Northrop Grumman IT recently completed three successful "Network in the Sky" risk reduction demonstrations for the ROBE program. The flights demonstrated Link-16 range extension capabilities and the ability to extend the range of Link-16 by bridging beyond-line-of-sight and line-of-sight communication systems. Typical line-of-site communication boundaries have ranged from 200 to 300 nautical miles.

Link-16 is a high-capacity, secure digital communications system that supplies near-real-time data and links tactical commanders to shooters in the air, on the ground and at sea.

The tests also demonstrated joint interoperability among participating Air Force, Navy and Marine units.

ROBE is the first in a family of Scalable, Modular, Airborne, Relay Terminals (SMART) that will mature in parallel with the availability of software-programmable radios and advanced antennas, according to the Air Force. SMART pallets will reside on tankers and also will be used on unmanned and ground- or sea-based vehicles.

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