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US Air Force networks F-15 and F-22 fighters – in flight!

Talon HATE pod squirts data over three protocols between previously-incompatible aircraft

The United States Air Force has successfully networked its F-22 Raptor and F-15 Eagle aircraft under the “Talon HATE” program.

The F-15 first flew in 1972 and has been in service since the late 1970s, while the F-22 entered service two decades later. The latter aircraft had some data networking capabilities, but the F-15's vintage means it lacked that ability and some of the sensors that are standard kit on the F-22.

Both aircraft are still flying and it's assumed that will be the case for decades to come. But tactics have moved on and it's now assumed that military aircraft will be able to exchange data in real time to allow better battlefield management.

Hence the Talon HATE program, which adds new sensors to the F-15 plus the ability to send data from those devices, and the plane's other systems, to facilities on Earth's surface. The new kit resides in a pod carried beneath the craft. There's a picture of it here on Flickr.

The Talon HATE pod was pressed into service during a “recent developmental flight test” that saw F-15s communicate over Link 16, Common Data Link and Wideband Global SATCOM satellites, and share data with F-22s flying at the same time. Signals bounced off satellites and also through ground facilities.

Link 16 is a NATO comms protocol that can achieve 31.6, 57.6, or 115.2 kilobits per seconds in flight. Common Data Link is a US protocol that can hit 274 Mbit/s. The wideband SATCOM is hoped to deliver total bandwidth of 2.4 Gbit/s.

Demonstrating that the venerable F-15 can chat to those three protocols is therefore a nice step towards keeping the aircraft relevant and capable of integration into modern airspace and battlefield management practices. Which is handy given the F-35 doesn't look like being properly ready for ages and the F-22 program was truncated, leaving the F-15 making up the numbers.

Of course there's still ages to go before Talon HATE aboard F-15s is signed off and ready for duty when things get hot. For now we can enjoy the fact that forty-something-year-old aircraft can be retrofitted for this at all, and that clever folk have them chatting to younger craft to boot! ®

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