U.S. Air Force testing of its future Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) last year saw the use of the Northrop Grumman [NOC] Freedom 550 gateway radio to link the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 and F-22 fighters, and the company envisions the use of the Freedom Radio on a variety of manned and unmanned aircraft as a communications node.

In a briefing on Feb. 23 to discuss Northrop Grumman’s efforts to advance the DoD Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept, company officials said that they are pursuing a variety of communication gateway solutions to enable military services to share information quickly across domains and platforms. Northrop Grumman has been involved in communications solutions for JADC2 writ large–not just for the Air Force’s ABMS component of JADC2, but for the U.S. Army’s Project Convergence and Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) efforts and the U.S. Navy’s Project Overmatch.

The briefing came a day before the Air Force Association’s 2021 virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium (vAWS).

Richard Sullivan, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for program management, said that future U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy drones will likely be communications nodes and that Freedom Radio’s proven ability during the ABMS on-ramp exercise to link 5th generation and 4th generation fighters could serve as a springboard for the radio’s use.

The Freedom Radio system “can be baselined on a lot of our offerings because of its demonstrated ability to do that 5th to 5th and 5th to 4th [connection],” Sullivan said. “Those are things that we’re looking for in a lot of our future aircraft.”

To support ABMS, Northrop Grumman said that it “is rapidly working on developing and fielding a gatewayONE prototype by leveraging its proven Freedom Radio and gateway technologies.”

“Freedom multifunction, software-defined radios are the heart of the F-22 integrated avionics suite and F-35 communications, navigation and identification system,” the company said. “The signature design and open architecture functionality of the Freedom Radio supporting gatewayONE will enable 5th– to-4th generation platforms to communicate and extend capabilities to enable multiple 5th generation platform types to share and integrate data, helping make network-centric operations and JADC2 a reality for the DOD.”

Another important system for the Air Force has been Northrop Grumman’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN). In January, the service awarded the company a contract potentially worth $3.6 billion for BACN operations and sustainment (Defense Daily, Jan. 21).

Northrop Grumman said that BACN has 200,000 combat hours in more than 15,500 missions since its first deployment with the U.S. Air Force in October 2008.

Carried on four Northrop Grumman EQ-4B Global Hawk Block 20 drones and three E-11A modified Bombardier business jets, BACN is a high-altitude, airborne communications gateway that translates and distributes multi-domain imagery, voice and tactical data for missions, such as airdrop, convoy, humanitarian assistance, close air support, and theater air control systems operations. The Air Force has dubbed BACN “Wi-Fi in the Sky.”

Ian Reynolds, director of Northrop Grumman Network Solutions, said in an email statement on Feb. 23 that the BACN gateway system is not only on E-11A aircraft and EQ-4B Global Hawks.

Variants of the system are also operational on the Boeing [BA] KC-135 and KC-46 tankers “as a roll-on/roll-off capability,” per Reynolds. “Northrop Grumman’s Freedom 550 Radio has also successfully demonstrated capabilities on high altitude surveillance platforms and participated in recent ABMS onramp efforts. The company is actively pursuing gateway capabilities on LCAATS [Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology aircraft] and pod variants.”

Back in 2015, Northrop Grumman said that it had demonstrated the use of the Freedom 550 on the Lockheed Martin [LMT] U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

Scott Stapp, Northrop Grumman’s chief technology officer, said on Feb. 23 that the military will start to move away from a service-centric approach to JADC2, as the services see joint capabilities proven in the field.

“We’re going to follow the services with what they do in the three, different instantiations of JADC2, but, internally, we’re going to work to invest to ensure all those things will connect together,” he said. “I think the services are a little bit of a ‘Show Me’ mentality, which is once we actually show we can connect a long-range penetrating system with an Aegis cruiser or an Army long-range fires asset, that they can coordinate fires and you can do a demonstration, they will all be on board, and then they will actively go work out how that battle management works. Right now, they’re not thinking necessarily about cross-service battle management command and control because they don’t need to. They’re really only connected within their service right now.”