The United States Air Force (USAF) recently completed testing of new pod that acts like a flying wireless router for ground troops.
The pod facilitates near instantaneous communication and is attached to the bottom of the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
The pod was updated with new software called Net-T or network tactical for the Litening and Sniper advanced targeting pods for all legacy fighter aircraft and the B-1. The development test on the new pod upgrade began in October.
"This is a new capability the Air Force does not currently deploy with and it has not been tested until now," said Capt. Joseph Rojas, of the 40th FLTS and the Net-T Project Test Engineer.
The testing conducted investigated the software's ability to allow groups of ground forces to communicate with each other via Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver-5 - a small, arm-mounted touchscreen device roughly the size of an iPad mini that soldiers wear on their arm.
The ROVER-5 was previously only capable of sending and receiving data from the aircraft, but the new Net-T upgrade allows ground units equipped with ROVER-5 devices to communicate directly with each other using the aircraft to route the signals.
"The groups on the ground need 'line of sight' to the aircraft in the air, not each other," said Rojas. "This opens up communication possibilities to support ground operations across all services."
The target pod allows commanders real-time access to information such as video, images, maps, coordinates, and any other sort of file type. Thanks to the capabilities of the pod, ground forces don't have to rely on satellites, radio, or other forms of traditional communication.
"The pilot still needs to be able to operate the pod effectively, even though ground troops could be sending data to each other using this enhancement," said Maj. Olivia Elliott, the 40th FLTS A-10 flight commander who flew all of the required test missions for the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
"It's a single button push," said Elliott. "After that the pilot must maintain within the range of the Rover's transmitter and stay within view of the users. There's little to no interference with airborne operations of the targeting pod."