Tag Archives: JTIDS

What's weird in the Libyan Government Da.900 "challenging" the NATO AWACS episode

Since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, a certain number of SIGINT, Electronic Warfare and information gathering assets were reported to be operating within the Malta FIR or on its southern border, next to the Libyan airspace. Radio communications broadcasted on the Internet by LiveATC unveiled the presence of RAF and NATO E-3 AWACS, British Nimrod R.1, French C-160G and several US planes, as RC-135W, Special Ops MC-130Ps and EC-130Hs along with supporting tankers. Indeed, operating within controlled airspace, these aircraft have to contact Malta ACC to coordinate refueling areas, orbit positions, flight levels and to receive information for the deconfliction from other traffic during transit through the Maltese airspace. Even if the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force (LARAF) never dared to attempt to harm such planes, the AWACS have been operating on a 24 hours a day basis to provide AEW (Airborne Early Warning) in favour of both these planes and those involved in the evacuation of nationals from Libya performing difficult rescues in the areas taken by rebels. Around 09.30Z of Mar. 5, 2011, a NATO AWACS controlling the Libyan airspace for any suspect activity became the protagonist of an episode that involved one of the private jets of the Gaddafi’s fleet flying from Amman to Mitiga. The E-3 using the front end callsign “NATO 07” requested to Malta ACC if it had “any information on aircraft with squawk 2017, position about 85 miles east of our”. The answer from Malta was that “it should be a Falcon 900, at FL340, with destination Mitiga, according to Flight Plan”. A few minutes later the “suspicious” plane contacted Malta radar too with callsign “5A-DCN” (= registration of the aircraft) and flew normally to its destination. Since this conversation (that can be heard here) was broadcasted in real time by LiveATC many aircraft enthusiasts heard it live on the Internet meaning that the news of this weird episode spread really quickly, especially thanks to Twitter. Many media, inspired by a “provoking” tweet by the expert user who recorded the radio comms and made it available on Audioboo, without checking what actually had happened, claimed that the Libyan aircraft had somehow “challenged” the NATO AWACS. However what’s really noteworthy in this episode is not that the Falcon 900EX of the Libyan Government was flying undisturbed but that the AWACS was asking an ACC if it had details about a track it was controlling: usually, the AWACS is interconnected with the radar stations of the NADGE (Nato Air Defence Ground Environment) by means of Interim JTIDS Message Specification and it is able to identify a track (NTN, Nato Track Number) either autonomously or with the help of the ground air defence radar that has already correlated the FPL information with the trasponder codes of each track. Indeed, as there’s neither an active No-Fly Zone nor an embargo on Libya yet, the Libyan aircraft can still fly almost freely outside its home country, provided that a proper Diplomatic Clearance to cross foreign countries’ airspaces is issued by the nations interested by its route and, for sure, by doing that, it is not challenging anybody. Therefore, for sure, it was challenging the NATO AWACS on Mar. 5…..
By the way, unlike other aircraft known to be part of the Gaddafi’s fleet, the Libyan Falcon 900EX 5A-DCN was quite “active” in the last weeks. On Feb.23 the aircraft flew to Minsk, Belarus, and returned to Tripoli on Feb. 26. A suspicious but legitimate flight.

Link 16 on board the Italian Tornado F.3?

I’ve just finished reading a couple of interesting articles published on the latest issue of Rivista Aeronautica (06/08). They deal with the Trial Imperial Hammer 2008 (TIH 08), a complex exercise that was held in Decimomannu last September and whose aim was to improve the Time Sensitive Targeting and Dynamic Retasking capabilities during counter-terrorism operations. The TIH 08 proposed an asymmetric warfare scenario with UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicles) operations, GPS Jamming missions, SIGINT/ESM sorties, Improvised Electronic Device activities. Some specialized assets attended the exercise: G.222VS of the 14° Stormo, B.707 of the Spanish Air Force, French C-160G Gabriel and Mirage F1CR, a C-130 Senior Scout of the Delaware ANG, a C-160 of the Turkish Air Force, a Br.1150 of the German Navy, Luftwaffe Tornado ECR and IDS, two EH-101 in ESM configuration, and Italian Tornado ECR and IDS. AMX, HH-3F and AB.212ICO of the Aeronautica Militare (ItAF) attended the CSAR missions. Supporting the exercise also a NATO E-3 AWACS and an E-3F of the French Air Force. All the information gathered by the various assets were collected by the JFFC (Joint Forces Fusion Center) that acted as a sensor fusion unit. The JFFC was a sort of “middleware” that received and distributed all the information received from the various assets linked by means of the Tactical Data Link (TDL): Link 16, Link 11 and IDM (Improved Data Modem). Noteworthy, the Link 16 data link was implemented also on the Italian Tornado IDS and ECR – this latter equipped also with an MSR (Multi-Ship Ranging) a Link 16-based capability for integrating and fusing information coming from different ELS (Emitter Locator System) in order to geolocalize electromagnetic threats discovered by different platforms. In a typical net-centric architecture, during the TIH 08, the Italian Tornados sent the information gathered by their MSR to the JFFC that could update the picture by delivering the information via Link 16/Link 11/IDM to all the other assets involved in the exercise and to the AWACS. The same information could be sent to a Tornado IDS that could be used to attack a target detected by a Tornado ECR. That said is it clear that the Link 16 – which required the installation of a MIDS/LVT (Multifunctional Information Distribution System / Low Volume Terminal) on the Tornados – is extremely important to establish a flexible, authenticated, encrypted e communication channel between different platforms for information exchange. Considering that the first Tornado ECR with MIDS and MSR was taken on charge by the Reparto Sperimentale on Jul 17, I didn’t remember that the Link 16 capability was not achieved by the ItAF for the first time by the Tornado fleet, in 2008, until Riccardo Vestuto, an F-104 and aviation expert, requested me some Tornado F.3 cockpit pictures. After I sent him those images I shot during my visit to Gioia del Colle in 2004 for an article that was published by Rivista Aeronautica he made me notice that in WSO (Weapon System Officer) cockpit there’s a third CRT above the standard two ones, that is not present on all the examples leased from the Royal Air Force and could have been installed after the delivery (that took place on Jul 5, 1995) as a retrofit.
Since some RAF Tornado F.3 are JTIDS/Link 16 capable it is possible that the third CRT on my pictures was the JTIDS (Joint Tactical Information Display System) or MIDS terminal installed only on a few examples in service with the 12° Gruppo of the 36° Stormo based in Gioia del Colle (that is the last Squadron to have been equipped with the ADV variant of the Tornado). When in 2004 I interviewed Maj. Luca Spuntoni, Cdr of the 12° Gruppo (to read the article in Italian click here: Il 36° Stormo), he explained that the Tornado F.3 was the first aircraft to introduce the JTIDS in Italy but I don’t know if the panel in the pictures is the one used by the WSO to manage the system in the ADV. If anybody has more information, please let me know.