Tag Archives: SATCOM

New “Bulge” On Top Of U.S. Marine Corps and AFSOC’s V-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Is A Radome That Houses A SATCOM Antenna

The new “bulge” is a radome for the Ku Ka antenna used to interconnect the CV-22s and MV-22s to a complex system providing secure voice and chat, classified network access and much more.

If you browse through the huge amount of photographs regularly released by the DoD, you’ll notice that some of the Air Force Special Operation Command’s CV-22 and U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys have been modified. The tilt-rotor aircraft now sport a new “bulge” on the upper fuselage between the wings and the tail. After a quick investigation we have found that the “bulge” is actually a radome hosting a SATCOM antenna quite similar to the one used aboard airliners to give passengers the ability to stream Prime Video or Netflix live on their mobile devices while airborne.

The antenna is aimed to give the Ospreys the ability to interconnect to classified (and unclassified) networks with increased bandwidth and transparent transitions among multiple satellite beams in process: this significantly improves Situational Awareness, as the Osprey can get tactical details and access secure channels in a reliable way while enroute. The problem faced by the V-22s (both the U.S. Air Force CV-22s and the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22s) as well as other assets, is the changes occurring during a long air transit to the target area. The battlefield is a extremely dynamic scenario with forces in continuous movement. A Special Operations aircraft launching from a Forward Operating Base located at 1-hour flight time from the area of operations may find a completely changed tactical situation than the one briefed before departure by the time it gets there. Describing the need to be constantly updated, the commanding officer of a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force said in a news release: “As an infantryman, it’s very frustrating when you’ve fully planned a mission. Then after a long air transit to the objective area you get off the plane and find out everything is different … rules of engagement, enemy locations, even the objective itself.”

For instance, during the civil war in South Sudan, Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys flew a Marine response force from Spain to Djibouti in a non-stop flight of 3,200 nautical miles – the distance from Alaska to Florida. But U.S. Marine Corps crisis response units for U.S. Africa and U.S. Central Commands aboard MV-22 Osprey and KC-130J aircraft were typically disconnected from intelligence updates, tactical data sources and each other while flying to a crisis hot spot. This means that  but needed a capability to conduct mission planning, and command and control when flying to distant objective areas.

For this reason, it is extremely important that the aircraft is constantly fed with relevant updates while enroute .

Dealing with the MV-22s, the antenna is part of the Networking On-The-Move-Airborne Increment 2 (NOTM-A Inc 2) initiative launched in 2016. It includes a suite that can be fitted to the KC-130J and MV-22 to provide an airborne en route mission planning and over-the-horizon/beyond-line-of-sight (OTH/BLOS) communication and collaboration capability. Noteworthy, the NOTM-A is capable of installation/configuration within 60 minutes, and rapid disembarkation from its host airframe in preparation for future missions. The Quick-Release-Antenna-System for the satellite communications system varies depending on host aircraft but features network management equipment and C2 components that are airframe agnostic. The system provides internal secure wireless LAN access point for staff personnel to perform digital C2 functions in the SATCOM host aircraft: in other words the NOTM-A provides connectivity for the aircrew through secure WiFi network. Interestingly, access to the global information grid and Marine Corps enterprise network can be accomplished via commercial network access.

Ground communications specialist Marines train on configuring and operating the Networking On-the-Move-Airborne Increment II. This month, Marine Corps Systems Command fielded the first NOTM-A Inc. II System to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to enhance their ability to communicate in the air. (U.S. Marine Corps photo courtesy of Chris Wagner)

According to the U.S. Marine Corps, in May 2015, the first NOTM-Airborne Increment I (also known as the Hatch-Mounted Satellite Communication Antenna System) was fielded to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces. It gave embarked ground personnel real-time access to networks during airborne operations aboard KC-130 aircraft. As a consequence of the success with the Super Hercules, the Marine Corps decided to install NOTM-A Inc. II on the MV-22 and, in June 2018, the first of the systems was fielded to the 22nd MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit).

“It can take hours to fly to a location to complete a mission, and during that time, the situation on the ground can change significantly,” said Chris Wagner, NOTM lead engineer in MCSC’s Command Element Systems in an official news release. “The NOTM capability provides Marines with real time command, control and collaborative mission planning while airborne.”

An MV-22 Avionics technician installs the Quick-Release-Antenna-System which is part of the Networking On-the-Move-Airborne Increment II. This month, Marine Corps Systems Command fielded the first NOTM-A Inc. II System to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to enhance their ability to communicate in the air. (U.S. Marine Corps photo courtesy of Chris Wagner)

In order to accommodate the new system, the Naval Air Systems Command and MCSC had to modify the Osprey: “This involved modifications such as replacing the rear overhead hatch, installing a SATCOM radome, and installing system interface cables. Mission ready, the system is capable of providing communications access for up to five users, including networks, voice, email, video and text.

With the new equipment, the MV-22 aircrews can get accurate and up-to-date en route information: “If the situation on the ground changes, we can get updates to the Common Operating Picture, from reconnaissance assets to the commander enabling mission changes while en route.”

Testing with the MV-22 took place November through December 2017 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. Marine Expeditionary Forces I and II will receive the NOTM-A Inc. II System when fielding continues in 2019.

When it deals with the modification to the U.S. Air Force CV-22, little details are available. Most of the information comes from Powerpoint deck (in .pdf format) that you can find online. The slides, dated 2016, are part of a presentation on Airborne Mobile Broadband Communications by ViaSat Inc. a global broadband services and technology company based in California that provides satellite communications service for government, defense and military applications.

U.S. Army Special Operations Soldiers exfiltrate from a training area, via a U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey, March 1, 2018, at Melrose Air Force Range, New Mexico. This CV-22 is not equipped with the new SATCOM system. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sam Weaver)

The presentation includes interesting details about the SATCOM antennae used to connect to ViaSat services by C-17 airlifters, AC-130U gunships, Air Force One and VIP aircraft (including C-40 and C-32), RC-135 Rivet Joint spyplanes (both the U.S. and UK ones) as well as MV-22 and CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. Dealing with the latter ones, the presentation states that at least 6 shipsets had already been delivered to AFSOC for the CV-22 Satcom System and Service whilst the initial 4 shipsets for the MV-22 Satcom Systems had been contracted. Based on this, it looks like the system used by the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 and CV-22 is the same (as one might expect): it offers a kit with easy roll on/roll off capability, maintenance and upgrades.

Soldiers from the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and 3rd Special Forces Group move toward U.S. Air Force CV-22 Ospreys Feb. 26, 2018, at Melrose Training Range. The CV-22 in the foreground has the SATCOM radome, the one in the background does not sport any “bulge” (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Clayton Cupit)

Two years after MH370 there is a way for aviation enthusiasts to obtain location data from aircraft flying in remote areas

Amateur tracking software can monitor the signals sent by the aircraft to the Inmarsat network.

On Mar. 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing B777-200 aircraft (registration 9M-MRO), operating from Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, disappeared from radars about 40 minutes after take off from Kuala Lumpur.

The flight, carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew members, was regularly transmitting ADS-B data until contact was lost over the Gulf of Thailand, when the wide body was cruising at 35,000 feet at 474 knots in reportedly good weather.

Between 1:19 and 1:20AM local time, the aircraft turned right, changing heading from 25 to 40 degrees.

The transponder stopped transmitting at 1:21AM LT.

According to the Malaysian authorities, there were subsequent primary radar returns to the west of the Malaysian peninsula, over the Strait of Malacca and then north-west. This is assumed to be a real return from MH370 even if based on primary radar echo.

For reasons we still don’t know the aircraft radio systems did not work while the plane flew westwards back towards Malaysia.

Even if information was incoherent and sometimes contradictory, we know for certain that military radars in both Malaysia and Thailand saw the plane.

MH370 route with initial search (credit: Wiki)

MH370 route with initial search (credit: Wiki)

SATCOM (a radio system that uses a constellation of satellites used to transmit voice, data or both)  system pings linked to the INMARSAT network continued for 7+ (last ping at 08:11 local) hrs after LOS (loss of signal).

A Ping is a quite common term for IT Networking. It refers to a utility used to test the reachability of a host on an IP network and measure the round-trip time (RTT) of the packets even if it is more frequently associated to the data messages themselves, or “pings”.

Similarly to what happens on a Local Area Network, satellites send pings (once an hour) to their receiving peers that respond to it thus signaling their network presence. Hence, these pings are no more than simple probes used to check the reachability of SATCOM systems aboard the planes.

Based on the round-trip times of such pings, two arcs made of all the possible positions located at the same distance from the INMARSAT satellite were drawn.

But further analysis on Doppler Effect, as well as correlation among the “signatures” of other B777s, clearly indicated that aircraft had followed a southbound route, towards the South Pole.

Whilst search efforts have not been able to find the wreckage of the Boeing 777, the mysterious disappearance of the MH370 flight highlighted the need for tracking aircraft flying over high seas or remote locations, where radar coverage does not exist (such as southern Indian Ocean where aircraft, ships and submarines from 26 nations, have searched for any debris).

Two years on from the loss of MH370 and six months after Inmarsat completed their initial trials of a free tracking network for commercial traffic across Autralasia and the Pacific region COAA’s team who develop PlanePlotter, an aircraft position plotting program that decodes the digital messages transmitted from aircraft to display their content and plot their position on a radar-like chart, have successfully completed their own trials to see if we can obtain location data from the Inmarsat fleet and then plot it on their own tracking system.

Here’s how they describe their recent developments:

“This had been on our minds for some time, but we didn’t have the decoding knowledge to fully understand the signals from the satellite fleet,” says John, from PlanePlotter support.

“In stepped “Jonti” from New Zealand, who co-incidentally had been decoding the L band signals in the Aero band from Inmarsat. Those signals did not contain location data as the ACARS style messages at L band are from the earth stations, up to the satellite and “down” to the aircraft.

Thinking back to the days when we monitored the Inmarsat analogue phone circuits we realised that to get both sides of the “conversation” we needed to monitor both L band [ 1.5 ghz ] …and C [3.5 ghz] band. With Jonti’s help we set about some trials.

Inmarsat uses 8m dishes to monitor the tracking signals, we only had 1.8m and 2.4m dishes, but with Jonti’s guidance we managed to get good signals with just 1.8m antenna.

Jonti identified the short bursts of data which looked like they were from the a/c and after some stirling work he produced a version of his software JAERO, which decoded the bursts. Sure enough, in the data down from the aircraft was information akin to that which is contained in ADS-B signals. Using that and satellite dishes in Europe, America and Australasia we can now locate aircraft from the US
eastern seaboard into Asia and across the Pacific, via five different satellites.”

PlanePlotter are in the middle of further tests and have recently rolled out a new version of their software which, for their satellite ground stations, will provide full information, from location, heading etc. to outside air temperature: in fact, everything you would expect from ADS-B data.

“For our sharers it will show the usual ADS-B style information and plot sat comms equipped Oceanic traffic in real-time. Whilst we are not seeing reports from aircraft on a 15 minute basis yet, presumably as more airlines comply the reports will become more regular,” says John.

“Over the next few weeks more of our satellite ground stations will come online providing real-time coverage for tracking enthusiasts. The Inmarsat data, combined with ACARS, live PiReps and ADS-B will provide seamless global tracking.”

PlanePlotter global coverage

PlanePlotter global coverage


Top image credit: Laurent Errera (Wiki)

All the articles about MH370 can be read here (scroll down).

 

Interesting "hardware" brought to Decimomannu by the Israeli Air Force

Needless to say, the recent partecipation of the Israeli Air Force to the Vega 2010 (VEX 10) exercise attracted the interest of aircraft enthusiasts and spotters who were delighted to see some of the most advanced and rare Israeli hardware at work during their stay in Decimomannu airbase. First of all the G550 Eitam CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) belonging to the 122 Sqn of Nevatim, a sort of mini-AWACS equipped with 2 L-band antennas, on both sides of the fuselage, and 2 S-band antennas, on the nose and tail of the aircraft. The antennas are part of a EL/W-2085, a Phalcon and Green Pine (used for the Arrow Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile Missile, ATBMM) derivative. Another G550 variant (that did not take part in the exercise) is the Shavit, the SEMA (Special Electronic Mission Aircraft) the SIGINT platform equipped with the EL/I-3001 Airborne Integrated Signal Intelligence System.

Dealing with the F-16Bs Netz of the Nevatim-based 116 Sqn and 140 Sqn, besides the chaff and flares dispensers among the ventral fins (see also: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/f-16b-israeli-air-force-an-interesting-detail/) they operated with an EL/L-8212 self-protection jamming pod underneath the starboard wing. A similar pod, the EL/L-8222 self-protection jamming pod, was instead carried by the F-15Ds Baz of the 106 Sqn based at Tel Nof.

The F-15Ds had also some new antennas at the end of the fuselage (similar to the ECM blisters of the F-15E Strike Eagle) and a brand new radome, located aft of the cockpit, that should contain a new SATCOM antenna and the UAV remote control suite (the shape of the “hump” is much similar to those located on the two little wings of the Israeli’s AH-64Is).