Aerial networks enable joint forces communication through air, ground, sea

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location - Pentagon

The Air Force is an organization which values communication and innovation, and uses these tools to achieve the mission tasked to it by the nation.

No other initiatives showcase these two values more than aerial layer networking and its counterpart, the joint aerial layer network.

Although significantly different, as the ALN is a capability and process that uses non-materiel assets to achieve tasks, and the JALN uses physical assets to accomplish missions, both have the same goal – connect warfighters on the battlefield and in the air.

Aerial layer networking, while not a network itself, acts as framework.  This framework guides how the Air Force designs, procures and implements systems to maintain air and cyberspace superiority. 

“ALN will ensure requirement and acquisition authorities consider interoperability early in the process of procuring new capabilities, rather than relying on expensive post-development add-ons,” said Col. Douglas Hagen, Secretary of the Air Force Communications, warfighter networking chief. “By developing interoperable capabilities from the beginning, we can avoid the high costs of integration and inefficiencies that result from platforms that cannot communicate with each other.”

ALN is implemented far away from the battlefield, Hagen said, however, its impacts can be felt there, as it directly ensures the best systems are being used in war. 

“If this framework is adhered to at the beginning of system development, the Air Force will deliver a better, interoperable capability that would impact the battlefield,” Hagen said.

Enter JALN and its ability to connect multiple people across vast distances.

“The JALN will be an actual network, connecting joint warfighters on the battlefield, at sea and in the air,” Hagen said.  “The JALN is a joint initiative that focuses on materiel solutions to address communications interoperability in the aerial layer.  It will be a system of systems approach designed to enhance communications between different platforms in tactical environments.”

With the implementation of the JALN, commanders will have information at their fingertips, enabling them to make time-sensitive decisions, Hagen explained.

“We need the JALN to connect the right people with the right information at the right time to enable decision superiority,” Hagen said. “The JALN will allow disparate users to share information. By connecting our warfighters to a single on-demand network, the JALN will shorten the kill chain, which means faster reaction to threats with fewer chances for human error.”

With improvements to ALN and the JALN, Air Force leadership hopes to see improvements with connecting assets on the ground to support in the air and sea, as well as commanders in operations centers.

“These airborne networks will restore broken kill chains by connecting sensors with shooters and enabling command and control at the tactical and operational levels,” said Lt. Col. Scott Hamilton, Air Combat Command Tactical Data Links chief.

Hamilton explained Integrated Air and Missile Defense requires efficient, rapid coordination and communication across joint and multinational forces.

“The current approach to IAMD is very dependent on satellite-and ground-based communications and networks,” Hamilton said.  “Airborne networks like JALN should support this mission directly, especially when other communications paths are degraded.”

When ALN and JALN come together, Hagen says the ability of the Air Force to deliver air power improves, and allows for the Air Force’s legacy aircraft to play a vital role.

“ALN and the JALN contribute to the Air Force’s mission to fly, fight and win by providing the warfighter with the capability to access and share secure information across the range of military operations with our joint and coalition partners,” Hagen said. “This includes the capability for legacy aircraft to communicate with fifth generation fighters. Without the additional communications capability provided by the JALN, our forces will be unnecessarily constrained in future conflicts.”

For Hagen, it all comes down to improving a basic trait – communication.

“We cannot continue to fly without providing our warfighters a common situational awareness of assets and threats,” he said.  “When we fight, our commanders need data from the tactical edge to inform their decisions. To win the battles of tomorrow, we will need to share information effectively among our warfighters, leaders and international partners within the joint operations area.”