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NATOJOTM 2000; training the 'eyes in the sky'

Gary Parsons reports from RAF Waddington

Three types of Sentry were at WaddingtonAWACS aircraft from Europe were at RAF Waddington over the fortnight of 9 - 20 October to participate in an exercise designed to advance the means by which they share and use information crucial to winning and keeping command of the air in wartime.

The exercise was the first of its kind to focus specifically on data link command and control, and E3 airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft from NATO and France as well as Britain took part. Italy joined the RAF in providing fighter participation.

Entitled the "Joint Tactical Information Distribution System Operators' Tactics Meet", or JOTM to save breath, the exercise comprised a week's build-up and familiarisation flying followed by a week's intensive air training against a large number of ground attack aircraft in a simulated hostile environment.

What is 'JTIDS'?

The Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) is a digital communication used for the purposes of exchanging tactical information between different military units or platforms.

JTIDS was developed as a result of the US armed forces experience during operations in the Vietnam War, which highlighted the requirement for a secure communications network through which control of US assets could be maintained in a hostile environment.

JTIDS is designed to be a high capacity, secure, flexible, Electronic Counter Measure resistant (ECM) and survivable integrated communications system.

ECM resistance is achieved by frequency hopping over multiple frequencies. This essentially means that in a JTIDS communication Network each JTIDS Unit (JU) is allocated Time slots in which it may transmit. Each JU transmits data in time slots appropriate to its role. This concept provides a system whereby no one JU is essential to the survivability of the network.

The message structures supported by JTIDS act as templates, into which the required information is encoded. All templates are of a set standard and are subject to strict set of rules, or protocols, for transmit and receive. The protocols are not too dissimilar to the TCP/IP protocols of today's Internet.

French E3s have recently gained the ESM pods as fitted to all NATO E3AsThe air training was that of offensive and defensive air packages, each supported by an E3 AEW aircraft, attacking and defending respectively the target range at Spadeadam at Carlisle in Cumbria. Offensive forces comprising Tornado GR1s, Jaguars and Hawks supported by an E3 "attacked" the range, which was defended by RAF and Italian Tornado F3 fighters, also under the control of an E3. Each E3 controlled and directed its own air package more effectively than the other, thereby outwitting its opponent and succeeding in its assigned exercise role. The exercise will be analysed for lessons learned which will then be incorporated in future standard operating procedures.

Some Link 16 speakClick

A fighter can be under the tactical control of an E3 either using Link 16 or not. The definition of using Link 16 to control fighters is taken to mean that both the E3 and the fighter are active in the same JTIDS network. The extent of the interaction using Link 16 defines the level of Link 16 control. Platforms implementing Link 16 do not have identical functionality - differences can lead to interoperability problems which may affect tactical operations if aircrew are not cognisant of the problems. Major areas of difference are:

  • Not all E3 aircraft have the Grab Control capability (currently only the UK E-3D has an operational release with this capability).
  • Not all E3 aircraft process fighter sensor data with the same degree of options (the US E3C does not process any fighter sensor data).
  • Not all fighters are compliant with DLCP 500 Air Intercept Control; that is, not all fighters access the Surveillance or Mission Management Net Participation Groups (NPGs).
  • Not all units have a Free Text Message (FTM) capability.
  • Not all fighters in a flight will process Link 16 messages that are addressed to another unit in the flight, such as the flight leader.
  • Fighter data link Identity (ID) symbology and the number of displayed IDs differ.

The proword for JOTM Link 16 was TIMBER. The following prowords were defined:

  • TIMBER SWEET - Link 16 equipment is serviceable.
  • TIMBER BENT - Link 16 equipment is unserviceable.
  • TIMBER SOUR - a Link 16 fighter is receiving information but is not transmitting data link information.
  • TIMBER GOOD - the track information being passed on the link is considered accurate.
  • TIMBER BAD - the track information being passed on the link is considered inaccurate.

Aircraft coming under the Link 16 control of an E3 will taken under control by one of the following methods - Fighter Request Control, Grab Control, Handover or Take Control. The E3 can take the fighter under Link 16 without any prior exchange of Link 16 messages. Mission Assignment (MA) is the digital transmission of an order from the E3 to the fighter. The assignment can be of one of four types:

  • Intercept Attack - such as Engage or Priority Kill.
  • Intercept Non-attack - such as Investigate or Shadow.
  • Procedural - such as CAP or RTB.
  • Ground/Surface Attack.

In May 99, the decision to cancel JOTM 99 was made based on Operation Allied Force (OAF) commitments and the resulting ops tempo. A way ahead for JOTM was forged earlier this year, capturing the work progressed for JOTM 99.

During Operation Allied Force (OAF), Coalition Forces, both Air and Maritime, were plagued by numerous challenges while striving to build and maintain an effective JTIDS/Link 16 architecture in support of the war effort.  From the OAF Lessons Learned it was abundantly clear that JTIDS/Link 16 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) would be necessary to solve some of the problems encountered and to support future operations.

The French E3F sported some celebratory tailwork, but on the port side onlyThe importance of JOTM was made evident from the OAF experience - it was agreed that although the lessons learned from OAF must be part of the planning process for JOTM 2000, the focus must remain to develop the tactical use of JTIDS/Link 16. As a result of the experience gained in OAF, however, the original objectives were modified to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Link 16 Platforms to support coalition operations, validate SOPs in a realistic Link 16 airborne environment and conduct JTIDS tactical training.

As a result, 2 Group UK, the former 11/18 Group, and HQ NAEW&C Force Command, sponsored JOTM 2000 at RAF Waddington. SHAPE Endorsed the JOTM goals and underwrote the Tactical SOPs, which require that JOTM looks at Link 16 only and at the Operators’ Tactical Level, and that tactical Link 16 SOPs form one aspect of wider Multi-Link Operating Procedures.

Enjoying the British weather were the flightline crew of the Hawkeye (who were kind enough to drag it out of the shade for us!)The Link 16 players arrived at Waddington without any major problems and following a rapid administrative inprocessing the afternoon of the first day began with a welcome from AOC 2 Group, followed by a day and a half of briefings on the capabilities and limitations of the Link 16 participants and the exercise programme. Link 16 participants included the RAF E3D Sentry, NATO E3A from Geilenkirchen, the French Air Force E3F from 36 Squadron at Avord, French Navy E2C Hawkeye from Flotille 4 at Lorient and six Italian Tornado F3s from 12 & 31 Squadrons at Gioia del Colle. For the first week RAF 11 Squadron Tornados operated from Leeming and deployed to Waddington on Monday for the tactical phase. Although not Link 16 equipped, the UK ASACS sites at Buchan and Neatishead provided support to the Meet. JOTM attracted observers from the USAF E3B/C AWACS, E8 J-STARS, Sea King AEW, Belgian Air Force and TLP. Surprisingly, it was the first opportunity that the two French units have had to work together in the two years since the Navale obtained its two E2C Hawkeyes.

The glorious 17thClick

Tuesday 17 October proved to be a classic day for spotters at Waddington. Both the action and weather were red hot, with non-stop movements throughout the day coupled with some very welcome unbroken blue skies. Adding to the action, in addition to the JOTM Tornados, were French Mirage 2000Cs and Belgian F16AMs using the ACMI facility, so nearly thirty fast jets were flying sorties throughout the day, together with the AWACS movements. Waddington's WAVE was full to bursting with double- parked cars and the number of ladders perched against the fence would have kept many a B&Q salesman happy for life. It was a rare day of intensity in these fleet-reduced times, just like the good ol' days of fifteen years or so ago. I remember when blah...blah...blah...

The first week's work-up phase met with some successes, in particular for the visiting crews whose Link 16 experience is very limited compared to the more experienced E3D and F3 communities. The FRA DA 20 Falcons and Spadeadam range provided valuable EW training and opposition aircraft were provided by 100 Squadron Hawks, flying from Leeming. While the work up phase of the Meet tasted some success, operation of the Link identified some factors which, while not The Hawkeye's bits and bobs under the noseconepreventing its operation, needed resolving to allow it to be used more efficiently and effectively. One of the aims of the Meet - to develop Link 16 SOPs - will help overcome some of the difficulties encountered and aid its more widespread use throughout a growing number of Link 16 operators. Wing Commander Chris O'Connell, the co-ordinating RAF officer, said:

"The object of the exercise is to use the draft SOPs, develop them so they work and issued to all the various Link 16 participants to actually use and operate with. Everybody's background varies from reasonably expert to those that have just got the Link, so the first week has been very useful as a shake-down for everyone to get used to operating the equipment. It's been very successful, everyone's said they've achieved an awful lot out of it, you can hear the buzz of the guys de-briefing, everyone's feeling very enthusiastic. SOPs seem to be working reasonably well, we're only having to tweak them marginally."

All seven of the RAF's Sentry AEW1s are named after the seven dwarfs - Sneezy adorns the interior of ZH105.36 Stormo tail flash"We are able to transfer the tracks that we detect on our radar systems via a datalink as a digitised picture to the cockpit of a fighter. It's secure, and reasonably jam-resistant."
Asked about the non-appearance of the intended American contingent, he replied "It's disappointing, but at least they've sent teams of observers who have been able to fly on all of the E3s, so they're in there, and contributing. We would liked to have had a few more people here, but funding and other commitments mean they can't be everywhere."

The second week saw the Meet enter a more tactical phase with mini COMAOs planned for the remaining four days supported by 1 Group Tornado and Jaguars, and AAR support from 101 Squadron. The Meet concluded on Friday 19 October and was formally closed by the NATO AEW Force Commander Major General Dora. It is hoped that JOTM will become a bi-annual exercise, held on a rotating basis as far as venue is concerned. It will certainly be some time before it re-appears at Waddington, unfortunately!


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