Friday, October 17, 2008

The A-10 Thunderbolt II and the AN/ARC-235 FACE pod

By Joachim Jacob

The following company news was released on DRS Technologies´ website in their Newsletter from April 2005, Volume 11, No. 2:


In December 2004, a DRS Training & Control Systems project team in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., faced a major challenge. The U.S. Air Force urgently needed enhanced, real-time, over-the-horizon communications with fighter aircraft over Afghanistan’s remote mountains. The team had a great concept for integrating commercially available satellite phones with UHF/VHF radios in an externally carried pod requiring no aircraft modification and no ground infrastructure. The challenge was to deliver the first two prototype pods to the Air Force within 60 days!

Undaunted, the team launched a concentrated project involving around-the-clock effort and considerable personal sacrifice to develop the Fighter Aircraft C2 Enhancement (FACE) Pod System. “In an outstanding example of teamwork, these pods were built and shipped to the customer in record time,” said Brooks Timmerman, the company’s Electronic Production Manager.

After successful testing, the Air Force immediately deployed the pods to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan – and ordered 20 more. Commenting on the DRS personnel deployed to Bagram with the pods, Air Force Lt. Mark Gibson expressed his “admiration for the courage these gentlemen have shown…Your sacrifices are greatly appreciated by all!”

Reported by DRS Ambassador Paulette January-German

Current FACE product info on DRS Technologies´ website:

Fighter Aircraft Command & Control Enhancement (FACE)

DRS Training & Control Systems’ Fighter Aircraft Command & Control Enhancement (FACE) provides beyond-line-of-sight communications between fighter aircraft and command centers. Communication is accomplished through UHF radios, special-purpose pods, Iridium satellite equipment, standard telephones, and a laptop computer operating situational awareness software.

This dramatic and reliable improvement in communications ability enhances the effectiveness and overall security of the force. Command centers now have the ability to receive and relay critical information instantly to mission commanders. Providing a key element in both homeland security and battlefield mission success – real-time intelligence and communications.

No additional infrastructure is required since the FACE technology is contained in an AN/ASQ-T38 pod variant mounted on any aircraft wing station capable of holding AIM-9 or AIM-7 equipment. FACE operation overlays on the existing Rules of Engagement augmenting rather than changing them and ensuring no disruption of existing operational methods.

In late 2006, from DRS Technologies´ website I printed out an illustrated FACE fact file with detailed technical specifications. Unfortunately, this PDF file is not more online today.

Like a downsized advertising page from 16/6/05 looks the following PDF file, still online on Jane's Defence Weekly´s webserver:

Both pod graphics are identical with the graphics on the former fact file but without the original descriptions.

Also interesting is the following news article, published in "intercom" –The journal of the Air Force C4ISR community, December 2004, Volume 45, Number 12 public online PDF issue (check page 30):

Techno Gizmo: FACE: Fighter Aircraft Command and Control Enhancement

by Lt. Col. Tracy Murakami

What is it?
Air Combat Command is spearheading a "proof of concept" to operationally test a solution that will allow Control Reporting Centers to reliably communicate with close air support aircraft, transparent to the pilot. This project is called the Fighter Aircraft Command and Control Enhancement.

Why is it needed?
FACE was born of a battlefield challenge in Afghanistan—the mountainous terrain and its effect on "line-of-sight" Command and Control communications with CAS aircraft. Our warfighters were meeting the challenge by using a combination of airborne-based platforms such as AWACS and Joint STARS, as well as ground-based radio relays. However, this was placing a tremendous strain on these low density/high demand assets and preventing these assets from being employed in their primary role. Enter "FACE".

How does it work?
FACE delivers seamless "beyond line-of-sight" communications between ground C2 elements and CAS pilots by integrating an Iridium satellite radio modem and a small VHF/UHF radio into an Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation pod. The ACMI, or FACE, pod is a non-secure, voice only system that,while designed specifically for the Afghanistan area of operation, has worldwide application. The pod connects to an external aircraft missile pylon, therefore, any U.S.or allied aircraft capable of carrying the AIM-9 air-to-air missile can carry the FACE pod. In addition to avoiding aircraft modifications, FACE is transparent to the pilot’s procedures for the operating aircraft´s VHF/UHF radios. Subsequently, the simplicity of the design and integration will not require the expenditure of any additional training dollars.

Who came up with it?
The C2 Battlelab responded to the challenge in the Afghan area of operations, developed the FACE pod concept and proved it as a viable solution in the laboratory. However, additional testing and actual airborne integration was placed on hold until the program could be funded. It was at this time ACC/SC
hosted an industry day with the Electronic Systems Center to seek out any existing solutions to this C2 challenge. ESC received 21 different proposed solutions from industry, the U.S.Army and the C2 Battlelab, ranging from communications aerostats to aircraft to unmanned aerial vehicles. Nevertheless, ACC, with USCENTAF concurrence, selected FACE as the most appropriate, expeditious, inexpensive and seamless solution to implement, while still meeting the warfighters´ requirement.

What’s the status now?
The Ranges and Instrumentations Systems Program Office at Eglin AFB, Fla., is the Air Force lead for the FACE pod acquisition program. The operational concept requires assignment of an Iridium telephone number and a designated UHF/VHF frequency into the FACE pod. Under the FACE operational concept, a ground-based C2 element initiates beyond-line-of-sight communications via the DSN network or through an Iridium gateway. When the Iridium satellite radio modem, similar to a cell phone, inside the pod receives the call, it routes it to the UHF/VHF radio inside the pod and rebroadcasts the information via UHF/VHF frequency. While the pod radio is power-constrained to a range of three-to-five miles, any aircraft within the "bubble" can receive information and exploit the capabilities of the FACE pod. Aircraft transmitting calls to the pod-carrier can also establish communications with the ground C2 elements. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force has approved the combat capability document to produce 20 FACE pods. ACC expects funding for FACE pod production in early Fiscal Year 2005, quickly followed by delivery to USCENTAF to help fight the Global War on Terrorism.

An USAF Power Point presentation "Fighter Aircraft C2 Enhancement (FACE)" (probably also not more online today) states:

[…] Pod designed to provide two-way BLOS voice capability in AOR
- A-10´s and F-16´s in Afghanistan
- Utilize Iridium Satellite Communications
Compatible with sidewinder capable A/C
No A/C OFP or h/w modification required
Two prototypes began testing in AOR 12 Dec 04
Production pods accepted 7 April, 60 days ahead of schedule […]

The following related picture was the very first known, at least to me. It was released on ACC´s public website:

A-10 939 carriyng a FACE pod. The original caption states: Fielded for the first time in late 2004, the FACE pod is a solution to communication problems often experienced by aircraft in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. (ACC courtesy photo) Hi-res

A-10 652, carrying a FACE pod, prepares to refuel in the skies over Bagram, Afghanistan. The original caption states: The pod enables ground units to relay their coordinates to patrolling aircraft, allowing them to engage the enemy as needed. (ACC courtesy photo)

Last-spotted A-10 with FACE pod at Bagram AB by released USAF pictures was 79-0190 from the 354th FS:

A-10 79-0190, assigned to the 354th EFS prepares for takeoff from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The A-10's primary mission here is providing close-air support for troops on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

After the A-10s at Bagram AB were replaced by F-15E units, their Strike Eagles also carried the FACE pod, at least for a while.

Close-up view of a FACE pod carried by F-15E 91-0309 from the 492nd FS at Bagram AB, Afghanistan. This private shot was taken by an U.S. servicemember on June 18, 2007, during 492nd EFS´ OEF deployment as part of USAF´s AEF 7/8 (Cycle 6) rotation (May – August 2007).

This picture is part of the public album "OEF-June 07":

Anybody who can put me in contact with the photographer to ask him for permission to use his stuff on my blog? I would be very grateful!

Since a couple of months, USAF F-15Es at Bagram AB not more employ the FACE pod, like the A-10s which are deployed for OEF again, and alongside the Strike Eagles.

Possibly related to that is the 366th FW PA´s news article 391st Fighter Squadron, Aircraft Maintenance Unit set another first

Although this USAF news article only talks about fielding new satellite-based communications systems, but not about any related hardware (like an additional antenna) on F-15Es. In comparison, there´s another very interesting USAF news article about a new antenna on A-10s: A-10 evolution continues with newest upgrades

Anybody from the real "Hog" community who can/will provide me an update? I would be very grateful for any first-hand support!

Please note: Tomorrow I will udate all photo captions with full serial numbers, additional loadout info and dates of shots.