AERONet successfully demonstrates new capabilities during exercises

  • Published
  • By K. Houston Waters
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A Hanscom team is participating in exercises aimed at enhancing the tactical situational awareness and information sharing between the Air Force, partner nations, and non-Department of Defense organizations.  

The Quick Reaction Capability Branch is testing their Airborne Extensible Relay Over-Horizon Network, or AERONet, data link communication system at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The demonstrations are part of Air Combat Command’s initiative focused on building the capacity, capability, and interoperability of partner nations and are expected to continue through May.

AERONet is an affordable and commercially secure combat system capable of providing video, voice, chat, and position data to partner nations for under $500,000. 

“These demonstrations at Moody have been a great opportunity to test the full range of AERONet capabilities,” said Shayan Jafri, program manager, AERONet. “We’ve installed all three of our nodes at the site and we’re currently testing them over commercial internet and having great success.”  

As Jafri noted, AERONet has three nodes, each with distinct combat capabilities. The operations node allows users to track friendly aircraft using tablets or laptops that connect users through command and control software in the cloud. The airborne node is a radio and computer system that integrates with aircraft to receive and relay voice, chat, and full motion video. The dismounted user node allows operators to communicate to the other nodes via voice, chat, and position data.

In addition to the demonstrations at Moody, the AERONet team participated in two major exercises in the second half of 2021.

The first was the Angel de Los Andes exercise in Rionegro, Columbia, in September. There the team installed the AERONet airborne node on two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and two Cessna 208 Caravan utility aircraft. According to Jafri, this was the first time the team utilized the system in two separate operating locations while supplying real-time command and control data back to the Tactical Operations Center.

In November, branch personnel continued demonstrating AERONet capabilities on multiple aircraft at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana, during Bold Quest 21.2. Jafri referred to these demonstrations as a “huge success,” and AERONet was able to accomplish another first.

“Bold Quest was a huge step forward for our branch, as it was the first time AERONet was used to push voice, chat, and position location data wirelessly across a mission network,” he said. “Operating AERONet on the Bold Quest Mission Network really demonstrated the flexibility of this system and how it can be used on a variety of platforms. From secure government networks to commercial wi-fi, AERONet can support a wide range of hardware and software for a variety of warfare and humanitarian missions.”

According to Jafri, AERONet is expected be installed on 14 Civil Air Patrol aircraft by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2022 for use in humanitarian and disaster relief missions.

Col. Shane Louis, senior materiel leader, Aerial Networks Division, said he is proud of what the AERONet team has accomplished and the relationships they’ve developed with the Air Force Special Operations Command, Civil Air Patrol, and others. 

“This effort started over four years ago as an Air Force Research Laboratory project and the team has continued to grow it on a very small budget,” he said. “AERONet now has real world uses for Defense Support to Civil Authorities and with partner nations, all of which is adding information to the aerial mesh network to support future ABMS (Advanced Battle Management System) activities.”

The Quick Reaction Capability Branch is part of the Aerial Networks Division of the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate, headquartered here.