C4iSR: Air

USAF demonstrates AERONET international datalink for light attack aircraft

13 November 2018

The A-29 Super Tucano, seen during Light Attack Experiment trials performed earlier this year, is one of two turboprop platforms that the US Air Force is considering for a future acquisition for itself and partner nations. Source: US Air Force

The US Air Force (USAF) has demonstrated the AERONET international datalink system in the most recent phase of its light attack experiment (LAE) conducted earlier this year, an official said on 13 November.

Speaking under the Chatham House Rule, the official noted that the tactical datalink was demonstrated during the latter part of Phase 2 of the LAE effort that involved the Sierra Nevada Corporation-Embraer A-29 Super Tucano and Textron Aviation AT-6B Wolverine aircraft. This took place in May at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

The USAF developed AERONET as a shareable tactical data network for light attack aircraft, as well as building partner communications capabilities. It is designed to be a 'platform agnostic', exportable, affordable and commercially secure tactical datalink that supports line-of-sight/beyond line-of-sight (LOS/BLOS) real-time information exchange between the airborne and ground units.

In service, it can support Forward Air Controller - Airborne (FAC-A); digitally-aided close air support (CAS); strike and armed reconnaissance; armed escort and overwatch; personnel recovery and combat search and rescue (CSAR); and domestic and border patrol capabilities.

Previously known as OA-X, the LAE is designed to find a cheaper and more effective way for the USAF and partner air arms to conduct close air support (CAS) in permissive environments. As the official explained, "The USAF has had to come face to face with the knowledge that sometimes we are flying fifth-generation aircraft against targets that are often just a single person, and that's not cost effective."

Phase 1 of the experiment took place in August 2017, and involved the A-29 Super Tucano, AT-6B Wolverine, Textron Scorpion, and L3 Technologies-Air Tractor AT-802L Longsword. Following this initial phase, the A-20 and AT-6B were designated as Tier 1 for meeting all of the USAF's requirements, while the Scorpion and Longsword were classed as being Tier 2 for meeting some of them.

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