News: Deployed bombers support first RIPN project demo
Story by Senior Airman Bahja Jones
SOUTHWEST ASIA – The 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron successfully flew a mission in support of the Remotely Operated Video Enhancement Receiver (ROVER) Internet Protocol Network, or RIPN, project at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing here, Sept. 24.
“RIPN is the first wideband battlefield network between an airborne platform and forces on the ground - specifically the joint terminal attack controller,” said Col. Charles Menza, the Pentagon Battlefield Integration director.
The system uses existing architecture to create a network similar to a wireless internet router. The RIPN will allow the JTAC to transmit critical information and messages to other JTACs even when outside traditional radio range.
With the assistance of the 9th EBS and Chief Master Sgt. Keith Hunt, the 504th Expeditionary Air Support Group chief enlisted manger, the RIPN team from the Pentagon fielded the first test of the RIPN system. During the demonstration, they were able to form a network through the B-1's targeting pod to several ROVERs on the ground, effectively allowing them to pass digital close air support targeting coordinates or sensor points of interest to the B-1 crew.
The 9th EBS is the first U. S. Air Force unit to be equipped with the upgraded targeting pod. This newest upgrade allows them to transmit real-time video of the battlefield while also receiving information.
“These SPIs enable the crews to quickly identify the correct targets the JTACs needs to engage through a machine to machine interface between the ROVER and targeting pod,” Menza said.
A JTAC is responsible for directing the actions of combat aircraft in close air support. Menza explained in simple terms using the RIPN technology, the JTAC would be able to pull up the coordinates and send it directly to the jet. Instead of the individual in the jet interacting verbally with the JTAC, he sees a coordinate pop up.
“All he has to do is hook [the coordinates] and the sensor on the targeting pod will go to that location,” Menza said.
The JTAC would be able to see the target from ground level, while seeing the target from the sensor, giving him the ability to deconflict any discrepancies in the coordinates.
“Right now we don’t have a reliable way to do digital traffic to an aircraft, so a lot of times we are coming up with our 9-lines, writing them on a piece of paper and transmitting them over the radio to the aircrew,” said Hunt, the JTAC during the field test. “What we are trying to do is find a way to send that digitally to the aircraft so I don’t have to talk to them. We are using digital technology to find the target, now I just hit ‘transmit’ and it goes to the aircraft.”
One of the new features is the ability for the JTAC to transmit pictures to the aircrew. These pictures may be target imagery or other critical information that is difficult to pass over radio.
“We call it the “John Madden” feature,” remarked Maj, Mike Taylor, a 9th EBS Instructor Pilot deployed here from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and an Arvada, Colo., native. “The JTAC can take a screenshot of our pod video footage, circle the target, and send it back to us. A picture is worth a 1000 words – it eliminates confusion that can occur during a traditional target talk-on.”
JTACs use several different devices to communicate with different types of aircraft digitally. Menza said although use of the RIPN technology would not replace the other devices, it would provide them with an alternative allowing them to use a single device able to communicate with several aircraft.
The Sniper SE targeting pod on the B-1 was built specifically to take advantage of these emerging technologies, and aircrews have already been trained in its use.
“The pod on that aircraft has a radio in it, and that radio is in every pod … on all strike aircraft,” Menza said. “So what we’ve done is integrate the ROVER with the radio and with that one [ROVER] I can talk to every aircraft with a targeting pod.”
JTACs are already using ROVER technology to take full motion video and to utilize the RIPN network they would need only to upgrade their hardware giving it the IP network capability.
“This is taking advantage of that same ‘pipe’ that’s going from the aircraft and we just transmit back to it,” Hunt said.
During the demonstration, the ROVERs were able to effectively establish a link with the sniper pods on the B-1s to communicate with the JTAC on the ground.
“The test was a big success,” Menza said. “We are all eager to bring back the lessons we learned from these flights so the JTAC, which are closest to the fight, can have the best information possible to engage targets quickly and accurately.”
“Once again the 9th EBS and the 379th AEW are leading the way in the AOR by providing cutting-edge technology to help our troops on the ground achieve the effects desired by the combatant commander,” said Lt. Col. Ed Sumangil, the 9th EBS commander deployed here from Dyess AFB, Texas, and an Elmwood Park, N.J., native. “The Bats are eager to bring this unique capability to the Central Command AOR as well as to other AORs in the future.”