Identifying friendly forces to become easier for AWACS

The Electronic Systems Center is working on a next generation identification friend or foe system for AWACS aircraft. The system will help allow for earlier identification of targets, minimizing the chance of fratricide. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Robert J. Sabonis)

The Electronic Systems Center is working on a next generation Identification Friend or Foe system for AWACS aircraft. The system will help allow for earlier identification of targets, minimizing the chance of fratricide. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Robert J. Sabonis)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The Electronic Systems Center has achieved the next step in bringing an improved Identification Friend or Foe, or IFF, system capability to Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.

Currently AWACS provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity, along with early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied and coalition operations.

"The next generation IFF Mode 5 will allow for earlier detection of friendly targets and works to minimize fratricide," said Tricia Hill, Next Generation IFF program manager. "Interrogators provide identification of cooperative platforms, and Mode 5 improves upon that for the E-3 fleet."

Mode 5 allows for dramatically improved detection of "maneuvering" targets at a maximum range, while improving detection of all targets at all ranges. It also increases the confidence in identification and data replies.

A combined development and operation test was recently held at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash. Numerous test flights were completed with AWACS Block 30/35 aircraft that included jamming, interrogation and interoperability works with F-15s.

"The capabilities leveraged from the Next Generation Identification Friend Foe system will dramatically increase our abilities to tell the good guys from the bad, and greatly reduce the chances of accidental fratricide which will save lives in the future," said Maj. David Drass, 552nd Air Control Wing Mission Systems Requirements chief.

According to Ms. Hill, feedback thus far has proved promising.

"The preliminary results have all been positive," said Ms. Hill. "Everyone in the test community was satisfied. Although we don't yet have full data analysis completed we are working on moving to Milestone C -- a production decision -- this spring.

United States government personnel from ESC's French Mid-Life Upgrade and NATO programs were also involved in the testing events to see first-hand the capabilities provided and how Mode 5 will transition to their AWACS platforms.

Another opportunity for evaluating the capability will come later this spring when the Navy performs a technical evaluation for all Mode 5 platforms that are ready to test.

"We'll be a key player in this evaluation, with AWACS providing an airborne interrogator," said Ms. Hill. "It will give us a chance to demonstrate interoperability between services."

Additional future work will include a civilian equivalent to Mode 5, Mode S, which will be developed as part of the French mid-life upgrade.

"We've been successful because of the teamwork we have," said Ms. Hill. "Without support from the 552 ACW at Tinker, the JTF/605 Test and Evaluation Squadron, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, the FAA, China Lake, the F-15s out of Nellis Air Force Base, and our NGIFF IPT team here, we couldn't have gotten to this point."