F-22s Won’t Get F-35 Datalinks,Yet

Air Force leaders shed more light on the communications issues facing the F-22 Raptor today, telling lawmakers that the plane will not be receiving the same datalink being developed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Air Force leaders shed more light on the communications issues facing the F-22 Raptor today, telling lawmakers that the plane will not be receiving the same datalink being developed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The service had been looking at integrating the Multifunction Advanced Datalink onto the F-22, F-35 and B-2 Spirit bombers in an effort to give all stealth jets a secure way of communicating.

MADL however, is not “mature” enough to install on the Raptor without incurring too much risk, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.

“We should let the F-35 development effort mature before tacking it onto the F-22, this was a cost and a risk calculation on our part,” the four-star told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee today.

He went on to say that the jet “can communicate” with older fighters using Link-16 via something called BACN, a version of which can translate info from the Raptor’s Intra-flight Data Link to Link-16 format; allowing it to communicate with older fighters. BACN has been critical in aiding communications in the skies over Afghanistan where it’s been mounted on everything from a Block 20 RQ-4 Global Hawk to business jets. (Here’s a more detailed explanation of these so-called communications gateways.)

However, when asked if the version of BACN that allows the Raptors to actually talk to other jets has been fielded, Schwartz couldn’t say.

So yes, in theory, the Air Force has a tool that can allow the F-22 to communicate with Link-16 equipped jets. In reality, it may not be fully fielded yet in sufficient numbers. The way Schwartz described it, anytime the F-22 would deploy with other fighters, it would need a RQ-4 Global Hawk drone equipped with BACN to be loitering nearby.

While the Air Force insists the jet wasn’t used in Libya because it is based too far from the fight, some speculate that its inability to communicate with other fighters is the real reason it was left out of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

So, given the fact that the F-22 is based far from Libya combined with the fact it would take the deployment of a Global Hawk equipped with a gateway, that may or may not be fielded, to allow it to talk to other jets, it seems like the communications issue may have played a role in the service’s decision to exclude it from Libyan ops. It would just be too much effort to quickly deploy the Raptor, a jet which wouldn’t have a heck of a lot of use in Libya, with its ancient air defenses, to begin with.