A-10s get digital makeover with data link

The most significant change to the A-10C is the addition of the Situational Awareness Data Link, or SADL.  With SADL, the A-10C joins a massive “internet-like” network of land, air, and sea systems.  Each individual member “uploads” information for other platforms to see and use, and “downloads” information that it can use to better perform its mission. Pictured is a representation of what the dat link looks like to pilots. (Courtesy graphic)

The most significant change to the A-10C is the addition of the Situational Awareness Data Link, or SADL. With SADL, the A-10C joins a massive “Internet-like” network of land, air, and sea systems. Each individual member “uploads” information for other platforms to see and use, and “downloads” information that it can use to better perform its mission. Pictured is a representation of what the dat link looks like to pilots. (Courtesy graphic)

A newly modified A-10C Thunderbolt II taxis in during the roll-out ceremony Nov. 29 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.  The A-10 has been modified with precision engagement technology to create the new and improved A-10C.  The enhancements include full integration of sensors, multi-functional color displays and a new hands-on-throttle-and-stick interface.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alesia Goosic)

A newly modified A-10C Thunderbolt II taxis in during the roll-out ceremony Nov. 29 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The A-10 has been modified with precision engagement technology to create the new and improved A-10C. The enhancements include full integration of sensors, multi-functional color displays and a new hands-on-throttle-and-stick interface. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alesia Goosic)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Arizona - -- With the digital age in full swing, more technologies are becoming accessible to nearly everyone in the world. From inner-city neighborhoods to rural villages, technology is taking over. In the past few years, the armed forces have integrated advanced digital technologies into their systems and platforms, including the ability to network with other fighters and command and control platforms.

The Air Force is no exception. As part of the "Precision Engagement" upgrade--which changes the aircraft designation from A-10A to A-10C--the AF is making significant changes to its fleet of Warthogs.

"It's the largest upgrade the A-10 has ever had by far," said Maj. Drew English, program manager for A-10C Precision Engagement. "The gist of it is to bring the A-10 from being an analog jet to a digital jet."

The most significant change to the A-10C is the addition of the Situational Awareness Data Link, or SADL. With SADL, the A-10C joins a massive "internet-like" network of land, air, and sea systems. Each individual member "uploads" information for other platforms to see and use, and "downloads" information that it can use to better perform its mission.

For the A-10C pilots here at D-M, this means instead of annotating friendly and enemy locations in grease pencil on paper maps, they digitally access the most current information from command and control systems. SADL automatically update the digital battlefield information on the integrated moving map in the aircraft.

With SADL, participants gain situational awareness by exchanging digital data over a common communications link that is continuously updated in real time. "With SADL you can see everything that a friendly user puts on the link," said Lt. Col. Michael Millen, 357th Fighter Squadron operations officer. "Everyone with a piece of the puzzle can put it on the net, which collectively creates an electronic representation of the battlefield. SADL automatically downloads the pertinent information and displays it on a screen in the cockpit."

SADL is a military inter-computer data exchange format, similar in many ways to the more prolific format Link 16 (utilized by F-15s, some F-16s, and many command and control platforms), and supports the exchange of tactical information in real time. SADL is used primarily by US land forces, the A-10C and the F-16C+ in the tactical arena. Link 16 and SADL share information via gateways, which are land-based or airborne portals that permit the transfer of information between different formats.

A command and control platform--such as the 12AF Air Operations Center (AOC) here at DM--can send digital communication via SADL to the A-10C for a variety of purposes. Tasking messages, targeting information, threat warnings, and friendly locations can all be sent and received by the A-10C. Additionally, the A-10C is the only platform with the ability to task other fighter platforms to attack targets, indicative of both the importance of this airframe and the trust placed in A-10C pilots by the AF leadership.

The airframe becomes even more lethal when an advanced targeting pod is combined with SADL. This allows A-10C pilots to quickly find targets while remaining clear of surface to air threats, and then digitally assign other fighters to attack the targets.

"In this aircraft I can find a target in my targeting pod, assign it to another fighter, clear him to attack it, watch his bombs hit, and provide a bomb damage assessment to the AOC with little or no verbal communication. And it takes about half the time," said Colonel Millen. "It's a phenomenal improvement."

This responsiveness is critical to coalition ground forces that, when ambushed and outnumbered, may need immediate firepower (in a matter of minutes) to survive and accomplish the mission.