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Hanscom 'pockets' the U.S. to improve homeland defense

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- A new program known as the Pocket J system was recently completed and implemented to connect the nation's continental air defense sectors to aircraft flying the homeland defense mission.

The program, managed under the C3I and Networks Directorate at Hanscom Air Force Base provides the primary tactical data link messaging capability between the air defense sectors, Pocket J ground stations and aircraft to enable the air defense of strategic assets and population centers.

"Tactical data link messaging is a force multiplier that enhances the combat effectiveness and capability of the combat air forces, and leverages our ability to protect the Homeland against airborne threats," said Maj. Gen. Craig Olson, the C3I&N program executive officer.

Pocket J nodes were fielded across the continental United States, establishing direct communication paths for tactical data link messages between airborne tactical aircraft, such as fighters and command and control platforms, and the regional Air Operations Centers.

"The reason it is called 'Pocket J' is because the system establishes 'pockets' of data link messages within the United States to allow for that tactical messaging capability," said David Minior, a Pocket J program manager.The data link technology allows pilots to see, via visual representation, tracks of interest. In addition to providing this near-real time picture, pilots can use it to track and pursue potential threats. Having the digital data link decreases time and the potential for human error.

"Previously, pilots would have to rely on voice information and direction," Minior said. "Pocket J ensures all operators now see the same air picture - at the same time."

Pocket J was fielded in two separate production runs, so some nodes have been operational for years while others were just recently completed in December 2014. The first production Pocket J increment was produced and fielded by Ultra Electronics ProLogic, while later production and fielding of an updated Pocket J was accomplished by Booz Allen Hamilton Engineering Services.

"We are taking a capability that our warfighters who are deployed overseas have and giving it to our homeland defense forces," Minior said. "It provides a tremendous tactical advantage; pilots love it.