Today's Soldiers and Marines struggle to gain instant and persistent access to essential situational awareness information, such as enemy and friendly force locations and force disposition. Unfortunately, technology has yet to consistently provide this information, which is a critical tool in the warfighting effort on the ground. In the future, ground force communications will enjoy a generational leap in capability when terrain-flattening man-portable, vehicle-mounted networking radios are fielded. Until then, real-time situational awareness will remain solely within the domains of tactical aircraft operations and strategic command and control.
MIDS Transforms Communications
Airborne operations must constantly distinguish friends from foes throughout the full spectrum of warfare operations, from passive surveillance to the heat of battle. In these situations, warfighters have depended upon the Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) to give them the information and communication abilities they need to be successful. MIDS is a secure, scalable, modular, wireless and jam-resistant digital information exchange system providing real-time Link 16, tactical air navigation (TACAN), and voice communications to airborne, ground and maritime platforms. MIDS has completely changed the way the warfighter sends and receives data, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also within and between the military forces of many countries around the world.
The MIDS program was established by a multinational program memorandum of understanding signed in 1991. The MIDS program office, located in San Diego, Calif., is part of the Joint Program Executive Office for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and is a consortium of five nations — France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the United States.
MIDS entered production with the MIDS Low Volume Terminal (LVT) in 2000. The MIDS-LVT product is built by three vendors: ViaSat and Data Link Solutions in the United States and EuroMIDS in Europe. The program's mission is to develop, field and support interoperable, affordable and secure MIDS tactical data link and programmable networking technologies and capabilities for the joint, coalition and international warfighter.
To that end, MIDS-LVT terminals are successfully integrated into a diverse, yet complementary set of platforms, including ships, aircraft, missile defense systems, and national and international command and control agencies. Forty nations and two international organizations possess MIDS-LVTs or have been approved to acquire them.
The MIDS program office is working hard to field the "form, fit, function" upgrade to MIDS-LVT known as the MIDS JTRS. The MIDS JTRS terminal is a software defined networking terminal equipped with all MIDS-LVT capabilities, plus three growth channels into which qualified waveforms can be installed. This will allow capability expansion beyond Link 16, to create even greater connectivity and communication among its operators. MIDS JTRS can also be used as a replacement for MIDS-LVT with only minor host platform modifications.
MIDS JTRS development began in 2004 and to date has successfully completed F/A-18E/F platform integration, F/A-18E/F developmental test, attained National Security Agency certification with the Link 16 waveform, and completed initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E). Additionally, MIDS JTRS developmental test flight activities with E-8C Joint STARS are ongoing.
MIDS JTRS is in production with a limited production lot awarded in March 2010 and a second limited production lot awarded in February 2011. During MIDS JTRS initial operational test and evaluation with F/A-18E/F, some deficiencies within the MIDS JTRS system were discovered. Uncovering deficiencies in IOT&E is not uncommon, and the MIDS program office quickly conducted root cause analysis on the terminals and the system as installed in the F/A-18E/F.
A team of engineers from government and industry isolated every anomaly and simultaneously developed a verification of the correction of deficiencies (VCD) lab and flight test plan. VCD flight test events will be conducted beginning in July 2011 with the goal of attaining initial operational capability (IOC) by October 2011.
MIDS — a Worldwide Success
The MIDS program's success is clearly demonstrated by the large number of countries and platforms procuring and using MIDS-LVTs. As of late 2010, there were more than 7,600 terminals delivered, or on contract, worldwide. The most significant reason for this success is that the MIDS-LVT provides reliable, advanced, real-time communication capabilities at an affordable cost. Its tactical data link capabilities enhance situational awareness in the battlespace and enable the warfighter to cooperatively engage multiple hostile targets, and monitor those suspected of being hostile, while simultaneously avoiding the fratricide that can be caused by poorly communicated missions.
Another reason for the success of MIDSLVT is its versatility. This versatility not only refers to the number of platforms into which the terminals are incorporated, but also to their operational usage. MIDS-LVT allows U.S. collaboration in both peacetime and wartime operations with allied partners. For example, the advanced communication that MIDS provides has been used in combat operations in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan. It was especially useful in Afghanistan, where the absolute paucity of a pre-existing air traffic control system suitable for tactical air operations made coordinating aerial attacks, defenses and logistics very challenging.
With the original introduction of MIDSLVT in 2000, U.S. and coalition aircraft were able to join a real-time battlespace command and control system that helped them better organize and carry out their missions. The MIDS Assistant Program Manager for Foreign Military Sales, Steve Kolbert, summarized the advancement, "This was the first time the warfighter got a real-time picture of what was going on in the air, and that's huge."
MIDS-LVT use is not limited to active war zones. NATO is incorporating MIDSLVT into a unique system designed to connect the allies across the entire European continent. The program, Air Command and Control System (ACCS), will allow NATO members to integrate air traffic control, surveillance, air mission control, airspace management, and force management functions.
The goal is to provide a unified air command and control system, enabling NATO's European nations (including new alliance members) to seamlessly manage all types of air operations over their territory and beyond. The end result will be an airborne tactical network that is unprecedented in size and scope. This increased communication ability will be a major boost to allied defensive efforts and operational coordination.
MIDS-LVT can also be used to coordinate actions in crisis areas around the world. Such areas may include nations experiencing humanitarian or natural disasters, political unrest, or military tensions. In these instances, it is often the case that multiple outside parties will orchestrate a joint effort to send aid or to prevent tensions from worsening. This type of coordination can be problematic if the participants do not speak the same language. MIDS-LVT provides a solution to this language barrier because the tactical data link technology, as the MIDS Program Office Director of Operations, Michael Posner, explained, makes it possible for those who do not share a common spoken language to share a common operational language.
MIDS in Tactical Aircraft
This is a very exciting time for the MIDS program office. As MIDS-LVT use continues to expand and MIDS JTRS continues to reach critical milestones, the MIDS program office is looking toward the future. All MIDS-LVTs are planned to undergo a major upgrade, known as Block Upgrade 2. MIDS-LVT BU2 will provide Link 16 frequency remapping, enhanced throughput, information assurance modernization, and other significant updates to ensure that MIDS-LVT's operational preeminence will stand for years to come.
Meanwhile, the MIDS program office expects to verify the correction of many MIDS JTRS deficiencies, enter into full production, and achieve IOC in 2011. Platforms procuring MIDS JTRS include the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, E-8C JSTARS, and the Air Force's RC-135 Rivet Joint and EC-130H Compass Call. Future MIDS JTRS platforms include the EA-18G Growler, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, EC-130E Senior Scout, F-15E Strike Eagle, B-1B Lancer and B-52H Stratofortress.
Concerning near-term fielding of MIDS JTRS, MIDS Program Manger Capt. Scott Krambeck said, "I am extremely pleased with the progress the team is making, the new trails we are blazing and the lessons learned that we are sharing with our JTRS teammates. The outstanding government and industry MIDS JTRS team continues to advance and demonstrate JTRS technology and soon the warfighter will benefit. I am anxious to get MIDS JTRS operating in the fleet."
With both the fielding of MIDS JTRS and the upgrade to MIDS-LVT, the MIDS program will advance even closer toward its goal to increase situational awareness across borders and around the world.
For more information about the NATO Air Command and Control System, go to www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_8203.htm.
For more information about JPEO JTRS, go to http://jpeojtrs.mil.