Tag Archives: MRTT

Network for the Sky

Airbus has successfully completed a flight demonstration of a connected airborne battlespace scenario, centred on a Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft. The test was carried out as part of the development of Airbus’ Network for the Sky (NFTS) programme. This follows on from last August’s demonstration in Canada of secure mobile communications using a stratospheric balloon to simulate a High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS), such as Airbus’ Zephyr Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Airbus tests its Network for the Sky on a MRTT aircraft

NFTS combines various technologies – satellite and ground communications, air-to-ground, ground-to-air and air-to-air tactical links, 5G mobile communications and laser connections – in a resilient, unified, secure, highly interoperable, mesh network. Aircraft, UAVs and helicopters currently use networks with limited bandwidth and interoperability, and often little resilience. NFTS will allow them to form an integral part of high-speed military networks.

«This unique demonstration is a significant milestone in realising our vision of secure connectivity, which will enable the future air combat cloud and enhance real time execution of military missions», said Evert Dudok, Head of Communications, Intelligence & Security at Airbus Defence and Space.

The demonstration scenario simulates the establishment of multi-Mbit/s, wideband communication links between ground forces operatives, a fighter jet, a MRTT, and a Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) on the ground. Both the operatives and jet fighter had to send video in real time to provide enhanced real-time situational awareness and receive instructions from the CAOC in return.

The operative located in Getafe (Spain) was equipped with a standard handheld radio for NATO forces (ROVER). The fighter was deployed to obtain imagery of the area of interest and act as a communications node between the operative and the MRTT flying at 30,000 feet/9,144 m within a 150 km/93 miles radius in secure airspace. Communications were thus relayed between the fighter jet and the MRTT, via a wideband Line-Of-Sight (LOS) data link. The MRTT then routed the video along with its own communications via a wideband satellite link to a space teleport near Washington, D.C. The communications flow was then returned to Europe via a terrestrial link to the CAOC.

This complex scenario demonstrates the real-time operation of secure end-to-end communications across different networks and technologies: ground-air tactical link, air-air wideband link between two aircrafts, air-satellite relay and terrestrial networks. This type of configuration, known as a «hybrid network», represents the future of military communications and meets the needs of armed forces to be able to use a wide range of networks while allowing these to be managed dynamically and transparently. The solutions developed by Airbus thus allow secure Internet Protocol (IP) communications to be established, links to be reconfigured in real time and the available bandwidth to be allocated to data links based on operational priorities.

For this demonstration an MRTT aircraft has been equipped with Janus, Airbus’ new tri-band (Ku-Ka-MilKa) satellite antenna, as well as the latest version of the Proteus satellite modem, which is highly resilient against interference and jamming, and Airbus’ Aircraft Links Integration Management System (ALIMS).

This exercise paves the way for the development of the core capability for SMART MRTT connectivity, which will allow the MRTT to act as a high-end communication node. Network for the Sky (NFTS) sets the foundation for the connected airborne battlespace, with the objective to offer a full operational capability by 2020. The NFTS programme is part of Airbus’ Future Air Power project and is fully aligned with the development of the European Future Combat Air System (FCAS).

First Phénix

The first Airbus A330 Phénix Multi-Role Tanker Transport Aircraft (MRTT) arrived Thursday afternoon (on September 27) at Istres air base, in south-eastern France. Its reception operations, managed by the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA), will be completed, allowing its hand-over to the Air Force.

The French Air Force’s first Airbus MRTT tanker aircraft lands at its new home base at Istres, in south-eastern France, where it will be officially inducted on October 19 (FR AF photo)
The French Air Force’s first Airbus MRTT tanker aircraft lands at its new home base at Istres, in south-eastern France, where it will be officially inducted on October 19 (FR AF photo)

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly will travel to Istres on October 19 for the official ceremony marking the arrival of the first Phoenix MRTT in the Air Force, together with General Lavigne, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force.

By its versatility, the A330 Phénix will replace two types of aircraft in the air force’s fleet: the C135 and KC135 tanker aircraft, some of which will be nearly 60 years old by the time they are retired, and the A310 and A340 strategic transport aircraft, used for both personnel and freight. Twelve Phénix aircraft will be delivered to the Air Force by 2023, out of a planned total of 15, as specified by the 2019-2025 Military Programming Law, and the minister’s wish to accelerate their delivery.

Its missions will include supporting the air component of the nuclear deterrent, the contribution to France’s permanent security posture, the projection of forces and power as well as the medical evacuation in case of emergencies or natural catastrophes.

The MRTT Phoenix is based on an Airbus A330 commercial aircraft, modified to meet specific military requirements, principally mid-air refueling. This type of aircraft is already in service with several of our allies.

This first MRTT Phénix aircraft is due to enter operational service with the strategic air force command in 2019, after a technical and operational evaluation campaign carried out by the Air Force and intended to develop the procedures for use its operational employment, doctrine and procedures.

In addition, on September 27th, the second MRTT Phénix aircraft, scheduled to be delivered in 2019, made its first test flight out of the Airbus plant in Getafe (Spain), following its conversion into a military plane.