Improving Intelligent Tactical Data Link Translation to Simplify Real-time Warfighter Communications

November 26, 2019 | BY: Steven Horsburgh

Published in Military Embedded Systems

Military organizations around the world rely heavily on tactical data links (TDLs) to securely and reliably share mission-critical information among air, ground, and sea platforms. Because different devices use different TDL types for communications, a highly sophisticated TDL gateway is needed to translate information across the various link types. There’s a huge disconnect, however, between historical TDL gateway designs and modern military requirements. As a result, TDL gateways that were designed for the way the military operated years ago have not kept pace with present-day, technologically advanced battlefields. Developers who have Link 16 expertise will find that it is the most valuable when developing a TDL gateway for the modern military.

Legacy tactical data link (TDL) gateways are notoriously difficult and time-consuming to set up and configure. They’re also extremely complicated to operate. These legacy gateways were intended to be used at Air Operations Centers by teams of highly experienced experts working in a controlled environment; they were not designed to be used by warfighters who are actively engaged in mission activities at the tactical edge of the battlefield.

Today’s warfighters – digital natives who grew up surrounded by technology – expect ready access to easy-to-use technologies in all aspects of mission activities. If equipment is not fast and easy to set up and operate in the field, there’s a good chance that the warfighters will simply leave it behind when they head out into the field on missions.

Legacy TDL gateways can take several hours to connect and configure, with some systems requiring multiple days of effort. Any solution that requires this level of time and effort to become operational is unusable in the busy field environments. Warfighters need a TDL gateway so easy to start up that anyone with any level of training can simply push a start button and have the system become fully operational within a few seconds. The gateway must automatically set up connections to any and all data links, including management of radio configuration settings, with no additional effort or input by experts.

TDL gateways must be designed much like an appliance, hiding the complexity of TDLs and data translation to deliver information to the warfighter in a clear and easy-to-understand format. This is the only approach that will ensure TDL gateways can be easily used by warfighters who are not experts in TDLs, communications protocols, or communications equipment. The design must also include an intuitive graphic user interface (GUI) that presents the pertinent mission-specific information in a highly visible and simplified way, similar to the user-friendly apps that warfighters are so familiar with.

Once the TDL gateway is operational, it must provide complete, accurate, and up-to-date translations between multiple link types. With the complexity and variety of TDL types in use, this is not an easy requirement to meet.

Read the full article.

Steven Horsburgh

Author’s Biography

Steven Horsburgh

Director of Product Management & IT

Dr. Horsburgh is the Director of Product Management & IT at the Tactical Communications Group of Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Physics, he has 30 years of research and development experience designing solutions to complex, large, data driven applications for commercial and military use. He has 12 years of experience with Tactical Data Links software design and development in both engineering and management positions. Prior to joining Curtiss-Wright, Steve worked in satellite communications and data management for the Naval Research Lab, Mission Research Corporation, and ATK and subsequently joined Tactical Communication Group, LLC (TCG) to architect, design and manage agile research and development projects related to Tactical Data Links including Link 16, VMF, CoT, and CESMO. TCG was acquired by Curtiss-Wright in March 2019 and Steve continues to manage R&D, Marketing, and Information Technology projects.

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