Northrop Grumman Corp. announced on April 3 that it has completed a series of flight tests demonstrating the first production Smart Node Pod for the U.S. Air Force.
Smart Node Pod is an aircraft-mounted airborne communications system that allows real-time information to be exchanged among many disparate military and commercial radios and different data-links, extends the network to the forward edge of the battlefield and relays full-motion video.
Northrop Grumman conducted five flights to certify performance characteristics in February in Virginia Beach, VA. During the flights, the Smart Node Pod demonstrated the ability to transmit full-motion video, imagery, voice and digital messages between warfighters both in the air and on the ground via various waveforms and data-links and its interoperability with the proprietary and open source forward tactical handheld devices.
The company is under contract to produce Smart Node Pod systems for the Air Force, with deliveries scheduled through mid-summer of this year. Two different pod designs — a single-pod and a multi-pod architecture — are in production.
“This proven, reliable technology gives an extremely capable but lightweight communications, situational awareness, and command and control capability that can be readily mounted on many different military aircraft and controlled by the deployed commander,” said Jeannie Hilger, vice president for network communication systems at Northrop Grumman Information Systems.
Hilger said the pod can connect to the high-altitude Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) platforms, ground operational centers or other pods for beyond-line-of sight connectivity and provides access to high-level intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and command and control information.
“In this manner, Smart Node Pod has the capability to augment BACN in its anchor role as the persistent high altitude gateway of the Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN) by providing connectivity at the lower tier,” said Hilger. “Working in unison, Smart Node Pod and BACN have the potential to expand warfighter benefits by building out a multi-tiered JALN architecture and providing network connectivity across the battlespace.”
Smart Node Pod is based on BACN technology Northrop Grumman developed for the Air Force.
Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for developing, deploying, operating and sustaining the BACN systems flying missions in support of U.S. Central Command. The company was awarded the first BACN contract in April 2005 by the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Since the system was deployed in 2008, it has delivered near 24/7 coverage in theater. Northrop Grumman initially deployed BACN to satisfy a joint urgent operational need. It is now a key enabler of surface and airborne missions theater-wide.