Air of superiority

A military communication system designed to enable ground troops to call in airstrikes more quickly and accurately is now being used by the UK and Dutch armed forces.

Developed by engineers at Qinetiq, Data Exchange System for Control and Targeting (DesCat) it enables communication between a ground-based forward air controller and any aircraft equipped with Improved Data Modem (IDM) technology.

Chris Vann, a senior scientist with Qinetiq, explained that usually, in order to call in an airstrike, a forward air controller has to verbally transmit a nine-line package of information concerning factors such as enemy position and the location of friendly forces. This takes at least three or four minutes, and can take much longer if the controller and the person receiving the message speak different languages.

Vann said the new system slashes this transmission time to afraction of a second. He claimed that this improves the chances of the target being intercepted, enhances the security of the transmission, and reduces the scope for errors.

DesCat is essentially a software system that can be installed on a hand-held computer. Information can than be loaded on to thecomputer using range finders and GPS systems.

The current DesCat system relies on the receiving aircraft being equipped with the necessary modem and digital interfaces. Examples of this are the F-16 and the UK Jaguar, both of which are equipped with IDM. However, Qinetiq is also working on the development of a system that will enable older ‘non-digital’ aircraft to make use of DesCat.

During recent tests, Qinetiq’s targeting group equipped a number of Harrier GR7s with hand-held computers fitted with IDM cards, enabling the pilot to download targeting data from the hand-held device to the aircraft’s computer. Vann claimed that this system is relatively low-cost, and simple to install on any aircraft.

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