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HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- A team of former fighter pilots from the Electronic Systems Center here is continuing to make sure F-15 Eagle (seen flying here) and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots – both U.S. and allied – can operate the sophisticated Link 16 communication network. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Angelique Perez)
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Pilot-to-pilot link enables fielding success

Posted 1/10/2011   Updated 1/10/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs


1/10/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- A team of former fighter pilots from the Electronic Systems Center here is continuing to make sure current fighter pilots - including both U.S. and allied forces - can operate the sophisticated communication network known as Link 16.

Link 16 takes data from multiple platforms, including Airborne Warning and Control System, Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, and joint service platforms, and integrates it on one screen. It also accommodates thousands of different message types, allowing each to be sent, received and commonly formatted.

However, operators can't use it effectively without proper training, and that's where this highly mobile and experienced team comes in.

"The guys that we train are almost immediately eligible to go out to the area of responsibility and use Link 16 to do what they need to do," said Bill "Torch" Ramsay, a former F-15 pilot and member of ESC's Tactical Data Network Initial Fielding Support team. "We make sure they're doing everything right and that everything's being used the way [unit leaders] want it used."

And because the team is composed of former fighter pilots, their fellow pilots tend to be pretty receptive.

"We've been there, and we speak their language," Mr. Ramsay said. "It gives us credibility."

The team, once it completes training of an F-16 squadron at Sioux Falls, S.D., later this month, will have completed initial fielding training for all U.S. Block 40 and 50 F-16 Fighting Falcon units, which are the F-16 variants that employ Link 16. The team finished training all F-15 units several years ago.

They've also completed training a number of allied force units who have received Link 16 as part of Foreign Military Sales initiatives. The list of nations includes Taiwan, Poland, Greece and Saudi Arabia, where the team wrapped up a three-year effort in 2010. There they trained seven squadrons of F-15 pilots on four geographically dispersed bases and helped integrate their Link 16 ground stations into local networks.

"Combat employment interoperability with Saudi Arabia is important for any possible future conflicts in the region," said Bob "Slammer" Provost, the Saudi Arabia fielding team lead. "Fielding Link 16 capability on Saudi Arabia's entire F-15 fleet really bridged a gap in our ability to employ our respective Air Forces jointly."

Mr. Provost is also a former F-15 pilot, who during his Air Force career spent a year stationed at Riyadh Air Base in Saudi Arabia, something he said helped during this effort.

"Having flown Eagles with the Royal Saudi Air Force at all their fighter bases just a few years prior, understanding their Air Force culture and seeing a lot of familiar faces helped accelerate our teaching efforts," he said.

Having a fielding team capable of really getting operators up to speed on the equipment helps make the whole process work, said Mike Wabrek, the FMS case manager for the Saudi Link 16 upgrade. He noted that all FMS customers receive a lot of intensive training, with on-site courses provided by both the aircraft manufacturer and the U.S. Joint Forces Command. However, it's the final efforts of the fielding team that really gets coalition partner's fighter pilots comfortable using the data link operationally.

"I like to say that the Fielding Team is the light at the end of the tunnel," Mr. Wabrek said. "They provide that pilot-to-pilot interface - the no-kidding, this-is-what-you-need-to-know stuff - for day to day internal squadron training and real-world operations. Fighter pilots tend to speak in their own language, and it really helps to have these guys who speak that language go in there and work with them. It's an effective capstone to all the classroom training."

He noted that, since completing the initial Saudi fielding, he's received nothing but positive feedback about the efforts of the fielding team, from the initial fielding of the Royal Saudi Air Force's (RSAF) F-15 fleet, to joint-service/coalition training exercises such as Red Flag.

"The Saudi case called for fielding to take place until 2013, but the RSAF requested an acceleration of the program," Mr. Wabrek said. "In order to match the installation schedule, and as testament to the Fielding Team's professionalism and their ability to adjust, we finished that portion of the case two years ahead of schedule. It's been a huge success."

Several more fielding efforts related to FMS cases are on tap for the roving team this year, including Singapore, Pakistan and Morocco.

"We'll keep working hard to get everyone the training they need," said Mr. Ramsay. "We enjoy each opportunity we get, and we've had a lot of great opportunities over the years. We've made a real difference and had a lot of fun, too."



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