U.S military just demonstrated the U-2 Spyplane acting as a linking craft, for connecting with an F-22 Raptor mid-flight.
The Spyplane performed as a data translator for an F-22 Raptor so it could communicate with an F-35, which happened for the first time. Previously, an F-22’s communication set could only translate data coming in from another F-22, however, using the Spyplane, the military for the first time demonstrated how fifth-generation fighters are sharing data with each other effectively.
The project Hydra test was conducted by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works for testing the communication performance of the Spyplane, other parties included in the test were US Missile Defense Agency and the US Air Force where an F-22 successfully connected with five F-35 Lightning IIs.
Since its launch in 2005, the F-22 Raptor has proved to be one of the most advanced fighters in the fleet, however, it lacked good communication, unless it was with another F-22. This made the Raptor’s pilots to communicate with other fighters through old-fashioned voice radio calls, which didn’t prove as effective.
Such an advanced fighter not equipped with the right communication set? You must be thinking of it as an engineering fault, which I’d likely tell you that it isn’t, rather is a case of clashing requirements. The F-22 is designed to be stealthy, hence, Intra-Flight Data Link (radio transmitter) is needed to communicate with the super-fast aircraft.
An interesting catch with the F-22s communication is that it could receive radio signals coming from the standard systems used by US and NATO. However, it couldn’t do the same when it comes to transmit the signals back with the same efficacy, making that it cannot communicate back to other fighter aircrafts. An F-35, packing a similar downside that it could not communicate back with an F-22, uses Multifunction Advanced Data Link to establish communication effectively. MADL was supposed to be pre-installed in an F-22 but was cancelled due to the systems pricey setup.
Communication between the next-gen fighter jets is as crucial as their speed. The military conducted Project Hydra in attempts to create an effective link between the aircrafts. The program will make use of Open Systems Gateway payload equipped in a high-flying U-2 Spyplane for translating and relaying data between the F-22s and F-35s, assisting would be the units on the ground over a Tactical Targeting Network Terminal link. Moreover, it also sends target tracks to fighters’ avionics and pilot screens.
“Project Hydra marks the first time that bi-directional communications were established between 5th Generation aircraft in-flight, while also sharing operational and sensor data down to ground operators for real-time capability,” said Jeff Babione, vice president, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. “This next-level connectivity reduces the data-to-decision timeline from minutes to seconds, which is critical in fighting today’s adversaries and advanced threats.”