Tactical datalinks have come to play a key role in virtually every military engagement, but until now only certain platform types — combat aircraft, large naval vessels, command and control centres — have benefitted. These functions are usually part of sophisticated, high-priced solutions incorporating different types of equipment that is often quite complex to install and operate.
In modern conflicts, and in coalition operations in particular, the ability to share tactical data with allied units has become an absolute necessity. But helicopters, lighter mission aircraft and special forces units virtually never have access to tactical datalinks because the systems in service today — packed full of functions and sophisticated as they may be —have tended to be too big, too heavy and too expensive. As a result, many of the basic units in the field are effectively cut off from their operational environment.
Right-sizing the response for forces in the field
What was needed was a simple way to provide basic functions like displaying a map of the tactical situation or sending a tactical message. The new SANDY solution from Thales is just that — an innovative human-system interface that’s easy to install, easy to use and affordable.
SANDY runs on a ruggedised tablet connected to the modems and radios that provide access to tactical datalinks. It is specially designed for the cramped conditions of a light mission aircraft cockpit, helicopter or any other SWaP-constrained environment like a mobile command posts or a vehicle used by special forces units. The system can also be installed on a PC in a UAV ground control station, for example, bringing unmanned aircraft pilots access to the tactical data they need to accomplish their missions safely and effectively.
SANDY is specifically designed for smaller platforms like helicopters, light mission aircraft, mobile command and control systems, special forces units and UAV ground control stations.
Operational benefits aplenty
Designed to meet the day-to-day needs of units in the field, SANDY builds on the same principles of usability that have been successfully tried and tested with other Thales products like the Amascos mission system for maritime patrol aircraft. The two systems have a lot in common, and use the same highly intuitive tactical interface, which offers significant operational benefits.
For light aircraft and helicopters on a variety of missions, easy access to tactical datalink functions offers a clear advantage. And the new solution offers plenty of operational benefits in other use cases too.
On a close air support operation, for example, troops on the ground can use SANDY to locate aircraft and send IFF information by simply tapping the screen, instantaneously completing a task that could take several minutes with conventional voice communications over a radio link.
On vessels at sea, SANDY provides easy access to a tactical datalink capability without having to modify the naval combat system, which can be a long, slow and costly process because these systems are so complex.
Another important advantage is that SANDY does not need to communicate across the same network as the combat system, so it could be used to transmit sensitive data (NATO restricted, for example) even if the vessel’s other networks do not have the requisite security clearances.
The SANDY solution is currently at the prototype stage and will be presented at the next International Data Links Symposium from 30 October to 2 November in Abu Dhabi. Having focused so much of their development effort on the user experience, Thales teams hope the event will be a chance to gather further feedback from operational personnel that can be incorporated into the new solution in preparation for its operational release in 2018.
What’s in a name?
SANDY is named after the call sign of the aircraft originally assigned to combat search and rescue (CSAR) missions. To locate and extract downed pilots, SANDY crews need an excellent knowledge of both the air situation and the tactical situation on the ground. They assume a broad range of roles and responsibilities, from managing refuelling aircraft to providing close-in protection for the helicopters that brave enemy fire to rescue survivors and evacuate the injured.
SANDY provides access to tactical data on a tablet that is easy to install inside the cockpit of a light aircraft