On trial: Network for the Sky

The Network for the Sky concept is designed to provide secure end-to-end communications across different networks and technologies and will form part of Airbus DS’ Smart Tanker vision for the Multi-Role Tanker Transport.
Airbus Defence & Space

Airbus Defence and Space has recently conducted a successful trial of its Network for the Sky (NFTS) system on board a company-owned Airbus A310 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT).

The company announced on June 13, 2019, that the trial of the connected airborne battlespace scenario follows testing of secure mobile phone communications in Canada in 2019. The Canadian trial involved the use of a stratospheric balloon to simulate a Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo Satellite UAV.

The NFTS system uses satellite and ground communications systems, together with tactical data links, 5G mobile phone communications capability and laser communications. Airbus DS says NFTS will allow aircraft, UAVs and helicopters, which currently use networks with limited bandwidth and interoperability, to form an integral part of high-speed military data sharing networks.

Evert Dudok, Head of Communications, Intelligence & Security at Airbus DS, 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.”

The latest demonstration simulated wideband communications links between forces on the ground, airborne fighter aircraft, a Combined Air Operations centre (CAOC) and the A310 MRTT.

Airbus said: “The operative, located in Getafe, Spain, was equipped with a standard handheld radio for NATO forces (Rover). The fighter was deployed to obtain imagery of an area of interest and act as a communications node between the operative and the MRTT flying at 30,000ft (9,144m) and within a 150km (81 nautical miles) radius in secure airspace. Communications were thus relayed between the fighter jet and the MRTT via a wideband line of sight data link. The MRTT then routed the video, along with its own communications, via a wideband satellite link to a space teleport near Washington DC. The communications flow was then returned to Europe via a terrestrial link to the CAOC.”

The company said the complex scenario demonstrated the real-time operation of secure communications across different networks and technologies, creating a ‘hybrid network’, representing the future of military communications.

The MRTT was fitted for the trial with Janus tri-band (Ku-Ka-MilKa) satellite antenna and the latest generation of the Proteus satellite modem and Airbus’ Aircraft Links Integration Management System.

The NFTS demonstration is the latest milestone in the development of Airbus DS’ ‘Smart Tanker’ concept, which enables the MRTT to perform as a highend communications node and the programme itself is part of the company’s Future Air Power project.

Airbus DS said: “NFTS sets the foundation for the connected airborne battlespace, with the objective to offer a full operational capability by 2020.” Nigel Pittaway