Airbus has demonstrated Network for the Sky (NFTS) connected airborne battlespace technology on a multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft.
The NFTS programme seeks to create an intelligent network across manned and unmanned airborne assets to enable seamless interoperability between them.
NFTS will ensure highly secure and resilient end-to-end military communications capability.
It operates a hybrid network that brings together technologies such as satellite and ground communications, air-to-ground, ground-to-air and air-to-air tactical links, 5G mobile communications and laser connections.
The network will allow aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and helicopters to be an integral part of high-speed military networks.
Airbus Defence and Space intelligence and security communications head Evert Dudok said: “This unique demonstration is a significant milestone in realising our vision of secure connectivity, which will enable the future air combat Cloud and enhance real-time execution of military missions.”
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During the flight demonstration, Airbus simulated the establishment of multi-Mbit/s, wideband communication links between ground forces operatives located in Getafe, Spain, a fighter jet and an MRTT, and a combined air operations centre (CAOC) on the ground.
As part of the scenario, both the operatives and jet fighter sent video in real-time to provide enhanced situational awareness. They received instructions from the CAOC in return.
The operative on the ground was equipped with a standard handheld radio for Nato forces. The role of the fighter jet was to obtain imagery of the area of interest.
It also served as a communications node between the operative and the MRTT when it was operating within a 150km radius at an altitude of 30,000ft.
A wideband line-of-sight data link was used to relay communications between the fighter jet and the MRTT, while a wideband satellite link enabled the MRTT to transmit the video and its own communications to a space teleport near Washington DC, US.
The teleport then returned the communications flow to Europe through a terrestrial link to the ground-based CAOC.
The scenario allowed the company to showcase the real-time operation of secure end-to-end communications across ground-air tactical link, air-air wideband link between two aircraft, air-satellite relay and terrestrial networks.
Following the demonstration, the company will now focus on developing the core capability for SMART MRTT connectivity, which will enable the MRTT to act as a high-end communication node.
Airbus expects the NFTS to offer full operational capability by next year.