The Air Force and Space Force's E-3F Sentry aircraft will soon be fully operational within NATO with the integration of the latest version of Link 16. This secure tactical data link streamlines international operations between the armed forces of NATO nations.
An Improved Link 16...
NATO bases its operations on the cooperation of its member states' armed forces. Interoperability is therefore a key factor between the various forces. It is obviously material but also within communication: the various tactical data can be transmitted in real time and securely thanks to Link 16 (L16). The latter has recently evolved (STANAG NATO 5516) with an improved communication rate, a cryptographic upgrade and a redeployment of the frequency plan.
It was therefore essential for the four French E-3Fs to be able to update themselves in order to maintain their command capability. From then on, two companies were chosen: Thales was in charge of developing the terminal including the new L16 systems, namely the MIDS BU2 (Multifunctional Information Distribution System Low Volume Terminal Block Upgrade 2). Air France Industries is responsible for integrating these terminals on the aircraft. The French Defense Procurement Agency (DGA), through several of its centers, and the French Air Force then verified the security aspect of the information systems and gave temporary authorizations to enable flight tests. This qualification marks the end of two years of work. The French Air Force also says the first use of this new Link 16 is scheduled for this fall's Allied Tactical Leadership Course (ATLC) exercise.
... on French E-3Fs
The E-3F Sentry is a forward airborne lookout and command aircraft (AEW&C) in service with the French Air Force since 1992. It is mainly used as an airspace surveillance aircraft thanks to its radar located above its fuselage. Its 400-kilometer range allows it to cover a large area; an E-3F over Brussels monitors an area whose boundaries include (in the clockwise direction);
- the entire Netherlands
- Bremen (Bremen, Germany)
- Colmar (Bas-Rhin)
- Dijon (Côte-d'Or)
- Caen (Calvados)
- Oxford (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom)
This addition completes the mid-life modernization and upgrade to block 40/45 standards, equivalent to USAF E-3Gs (glass cockpit, desks replaced by modern ones, electrical installation renovation, new modern computer systems, etc.). The four French Sentries are based at Avord Air Base 702 (Cher) within the Airborne Detection and Control Squadron (EDCA) 00.036 "Berry". The E-3Fs are versatile and the need for a modern L16 is seen in the variety of missions they can perform:
- as already explained, airspace surveillance
- airborne command post for air units
- supporting combat aircraft by providing intercept assistance
- coordinating CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue)
- supporting land-based anti-aircraft systems
- fighting maritime piracy
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