Air Force Service Acquisition Executive Will Roper recently revealed that the service is just weeks away from branching outside of the Pentagon and embarking on its “connect-a-thon” series to improve communication between different aircraft.
“We’re making it up as we go, right? There’s never been anything like this,” Roper admitted at a Defense Writers Group breakfast, as reported by C4ISRNET. “We need a way for people to propose connections and get into the pipeline. So I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it ends up being like a pitch day ... having a proposal process where we review the maturity of the tech versus the benefit to the war fighter. We would do the former, our operators would do the latter."
The communication between data link systems belonging to the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be the first hurdle faced during the invite-only, live experiments hosted by the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command in December.
Currently, the F-35’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link can receive information from the F-22 through Link 16, a decades-old system that has been the subject of controversy due to its hackability by enemy intelligence, according to Air Force Magazine. However, the F-35 cannot share data with the F-22.
Roper also touched on this topic during the Air Force Association’s 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in September, noting that communication between the two aircraft is crucial for the service’s Multi-Domain Operations.
“What we are going to use is a Skyborg attritable drone, a cheap attritable aircraft, to link an F-22 and an F-35 that speak two different languages,” he said, reported Breaking Defense. “We want to use the attritable drone to be the universal translator for both.”
If the live experiments are successful, the proposed “translator,” dubbed GatewayOne, will be attached to a Valkyrie disposable drone - which has been developed within the service’s Skyborg program.
“We’ve already heard thoughts from F-16, F-22, space programs — low Earth orbit programs — who say we can do this, we want to be part of the networked family,” Roper said in September.
Further efforts to make these connectivity dreams a reality appear to be on the horizon after Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein announced last week that not only does the service intend to make strides to ensure the F-22 and F-35 can transfer data between each other, but it also hopes to link the fighter jets to the Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.