Tests have been carried out of a new interoperability system that allows the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 and the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II to share tactical data with one another. Developed by US Company Northrop Grumman, the Airborne Gateway system was tested on the two aircraft over the course of two weeks in the United States under a Ministry of Defence trial dubbed Babel Fish III.
The tests demonstrated that the Airborne Gateway could successfully convert messages from the F-35B Lightning II’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) into a digital language that could be read by the Typhoon’s Link 16 datalink. The F-35B could already communicate certain information with the Link 16 system which is used on a wide array of frontline US aircraft such as the F-15, F-16 F/A-18 and E-3 Sentry AWACS as well as the RAF’s Typhoon but it couldn’t share all of its tactical data afforded to it by its fifth generation systems.
The two-week trial was conducted in airspace over the upper Mojave Desert in California as part of the RAF’s Exercise High Rider. Northrop Grumman said in a press release;
This is the first time non-US fifth- and fourth-generation aircraft have shared MADL-delivered data, and is an important demonstration of interoperability as the UK moves closer to initial operating capability of its F-35 Lightning II force in late 2018. Being able to network sensor data between fifth-generation and fourth-generation fast jets and other battlespace assets in a stealthy manner is critically important to enabling the full capability offered by fifth-generation aircraft.
The F-35B Lightning II and the Typhoon FGR,4 will form the backbone of the RAF’s fast jet combat force from 2019 onwards as the venerable Panavia Tornado GR.4 is finally phased out of service. The F-35B Lightning II will also be fielded by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm who will operate the aircraft from Britain’s new aircraft carriers. The ability for the F-35B to communicate with the RAF’s aircraft in such an intricate way will give both services a degree of interoperability that previous generations of aircraft in both services could only dream of.