An Electronic System Center (ESC) capability, demonstrated in a “proof-of-concept” flight at Eglin AFB, FL, could translate into more effective information-sharing and better overall situation awareness. Flexible Access Secure Transfer, or FAST, is a technology concept managed by ESC’s Global Information Grid Systems Group, which delivers critical near-term operational benefits.

“Through it, pilots could use imagery and video for positive target identification and battle damage assessment,” said Lt. Col. Gary Zimmerman, Tactical Data Network Division director. “That means more accurate and more timely targeting for the war fighter.” With FAST, aircraft equipped with Link 16 capability may soon have improved access to the airborne network and more up-to-date decision-making information. Link 16 is a backbone communications system and was first developed at ESC in the 1980s. FAST re-uses much of the Link 16 infrastructure of antennas, amplifiers and communications. Designers extended the system to eliminate many of Link 16’s inherent problems. It improved its capability while adding Internet protocol connectivity for older platforms.

FAST removes limiting restrictions and reorganized the way distributed radios transmit and access information on the network — retaining compatibility with legacy radios — while simultaneously using FAST messages to pass imagery or TCP/IP transactions. That functionality was successfully demonstrated by the 46th Test Squadron at Eglin, using a four-node network: an F-15 eagle, a King Air small passenger plane and two ground stations. Several functions made possible through the protocol connection were tested during the demonstration. FAST allowed the King Air, acting as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, to send streaming video to the ground stations. It also enabled the F-15 with modified Link 16 radios to receive images from a ground station to the King Air through the F-15.

FAST will allow warfighters to perform missions that require a free flow of information and live updates to tasking orders and flight plans without pre-mission planning. “FAST is an evolutionary approach for moving current capabilities closer to network-centric combat operations,” said Col. Anita Latin, commander of the Global Information Grid System Group. The upgrade would include only minor hardware and software adjustments with minimal integration impact on existing platforms.

The FAST team, which includes members of the test and contractor communities, will analyze the data gathered during the demonstration to assess the possibility of upgrading more than 2000 platforms. The analysis will be a key component in determining a fielding decision.