Air Force Featured Stories

Utah ANG demonstrates multi-domain battlespace connectivity on KC-135

  • Published
  • By Maj. Ryan Sutherland
  • 151st Air Refueling Wing

On Aug. 7, the Utah Air National Guard, in collaboration with Collins Aerospace, successfully demonstrated advanced communication, mission computing and sensor technologies to support Joint All Domain Command and Control and Advanced Battle Management System initiatives on a KC-135 Stratotanker at the Roland R. Wright ANG Base in Salt Lake City.

The demonstration took place during the Utah ANG’s bi-annual Wingman Day and 75th Anniversary event, a fitting occasion as the Utah Guard celebrated its heritage while also positioning itself for the future.

The presentation showed how integrated technologies and joint connectivity can provide warfighters with the actionable data and increased situational awareness they need to make informed, split-second decisions in evolving threat conditions against cyber-sophisticated adversaries.

“This feat was accomplished as part of a cooperative research and development agreement between Collins Aerospace and the Utah Air National Guard and has never been done before using Tactical Targeting Networked Technology with the KC-135,” said Col. Douglas Foster, 151st Operations Group commander.

The demonstration showed a streaming connection between a mobile ground party, an airborne contracted aircraft, and the pride of our KC-135 fleet, aircraft 0275, the most advanced KC-135 in the Air Force inventory.

In July 2020, the Utah ANG’s 151st Air Refueling Wing upgraded the first KC-135 with NATO-Standard Link 16 communication capabilities as part of its real-time information in the cockpit system (RTIC), bringing the aircraft into the 21st century and revolutionizing the tanker’s role in combat.

Aircraft 0275 is the first and only Block 45 RTIC modified KC-135 to date. Aircraft 0275 was also the primary test bed aircraft for both ground and flight testing of the RTIC system by the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center.

Trying to keep the pedal down on innovation, the Utah ANG worked with the Collins team and devised a demonstration that showed what was in the realm of possibility with RTIC as a baseline configuration. What ended up as the final presentation on August 7, is only the tip of the iceberg with respect to what is possible when everyone, Department of Defense and industry, is pushing towards the same goal.

“This accomplishment showed that with minor modifications to the RTIC system, the bounds are almost limitless to what we can do with a 60-year-old aircraft, exemplifying Gen. Brown’s ‘Accelerate Change or Lose' mission statement,” Foster added. “Moving forward, almost all of the technology demonstrated on ANG KC-135s to include defensive systems and additional force multiplying capabilities can be transferred to other MAF aircraft, including KC-46, C-17 (Globemaster III) , and C-130 (Hercules), at a much lower program risk level to individual aircraft programs.”

Giving the KC-135 the situational awareness via advanced tactical datalinks is the first step in creating a survivable tanker force while buying down technological risk to almost all mobility Air Force aircraft.

RTIC is an ANG-funded program through National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation funding. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command plan to provide this same RTIC baseline capability for all reserve component KC-135s moving forward so these additional capability improvements will be possible on all Air Guard and AFRC KC-135’s in the future.

Since 2018, the Utah ANG has worked with the KC-135 Program Office, Collins Aerospace and Borsight in the development and installation of situational awareness building technologies. The RTIC adds Link 16, Situational Awareness Data Link and Secure Beyond Line-of-Sight communications to the aircraft.

In December 2020, the National Guard Bureau named the Utah ANG as the interim KC-135 Test Detachment for AATC. In coordination with the AATC, the Utah ANG is demonstrating viable solutions to some very difficult problems presented by the prospect of future peer conflict. The nation relies on tanker aircraft for power projection, nuclear deterrence, and rapid global mobility; without tankers, the war from an airborne perspective, stops.

“Tankers are at the forward edge of the battlespace already, so why would we not provide the best information, data fusion, communications relay/translation, and combat effects enhancements as possible, while still providing fuel to the fight,” Foster said.

“To the Utah Air National Guard, striving to be the most survivable, most valued teammate in conflict is a no brainer.”