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A-10s get digital makeover

by Senior Airman Tim Beckham
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

6/27/2007 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFPN) -- Air Force officials are making significant changes to A-10 Thunderbolt IIs as part of the "Precision Engagement" upgrade, which changes the aircraft designation from the A-10A to the A-10C.

"It's the largest upgrade the A-10 has ever had by far," said Maj. Drew English, the program manager for A-10C Precision Engagement. 

"The gist of it is to bring the A-10 from being an analog jet to a digital jet," he said.

The most significant change to the A-10C is the addition of the Situational Awareness Data Link, or SADL. With SADL, the A-10C joins a massive "Internet-like" network of land, air and sea systems. Each individual member "uploads" information for other platforms to see and use, and "downloads" information it can use to better perform its mission.

For the A-10C pilots at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, this means they digitally access the most current information from command and control systems instead of annotating friendly and enemy locations in grease pencil on paper maps. SADL automatically updates the digital battlefield information on the integrated moving map in the aircraft.

With SADL, participants gain situational awareness by exchanging digital data over a common communications link continuously updated in real time. 

"With SADL you can see everything that a friendly user puts on the link," said Lt. Col. Michael Millen, a 357th Fighter Squadron operations officer. "Everyone with a piece of the puzzle can put it on the net, which collectively creates an electronic representation of the battlefield. SADL automatically downloads the pertinent information and displays it on a screen in the cockpit."

SADL is a military intercomputer data exchange format, similar in many ways to the more prolific format Link 16 (used by F-15 Eagles, some F-16 Fighting Falcons, and many command and control platforms), and supports the exchange of tactical information in real time. SADL is used primarily by U.S. land forces, the A-10C and the F-16C in the tactical arena. Link 16 and SADL share information via gateways, which are land-based or airborne portals that permit the transfer of information between different formats.

A command and control platform -- such as the 12th Air Force Air Operations Center here -- can send digital communication via SADL to the A-10C for a variety of purposes. Tasking messages, targeting information, threat warnings, and friendly locations can all be sent and received by the A-10C. Additionally, the A-10C is the only platform with the ability to task other fighter platforms to attack targets.

The airframe becomes even more lethal when an advanced targeting pod is combined with SADL. This allows A-10C pilots to quickly find targets while remaining clear of surface to air threats, and then digitally assign other fighters to attack the targets.

"In this aircraft I can find a target in my targeting pod, assign it to another fighter, clear him to attack it, watch his bombs hit, and provide a bomb damage assessment to the AOC with little or no verbal communication. And it takes about half the time," Colonel Millen said. "It's a phenomenal improvement."

This responsiveness is critical to coalition ground forces whom, when ambushed and outnumbered, may need immediate firepower (in a matter of minutes) to survive and accomplish the mission.

(Courtesy Air Combat Command News Service)

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