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Guard, Reserve Test Center links mobility to ‘boots on the ground’

Air National Guard combat controllers plan an exercise to help the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC) test the Situational Awareness Data Link, or SADL, May 7. The tactical data link commonly used for close air support promises to benefit mobility operations as well. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

Air National Guard combat controllers plan an exercise to help the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC) test the Situational Awareness Data Link, or SADL, May 7. The tactical data link commonly used for close air support promises to benefit mobility operations as well. (National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- In the Southern Arizona desert, three C-130s recently rumbled over the saguaros and airdropped training bundles to a waiting combat controller. The historic drop was conducted digitally with a tactical data link known as the Situational Awareness Data Link, or SADL.

It was the first time a C-130 aircraft, in cooperation with a joint terminal attack controller on the ground, used digital technology to work as a team.

The mission was part of an operational utility evaluation run by the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC) out of Tucson International Airport to showcase the capabilities that a tactical data link brings to the mobility fight.

Three Guard and Reserve mobility units participated; C-130Hs from the 130th Airlift Wing from the West Virginia Air Guard; the Reserves' 910th Airlift Wing from Ohio; and a MC-130P from the 129th Rescue Wing from the California Air Guard.

The evaluation was the first step in fulfilling a combined Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve requirement developed at the annual ANG/AFRC weapons and tactics conference, or WEPTAC, where Reserve component warfighters expressed the need for digital capabilities. The tactical data link requirement would modernize various models of the C-130 and other mobility aircraft such as the KC-135 Stratotanker.

SADL is already available on all active duty A-10s and all block 30/32 F-16s for the close air support role and has been employed with great success. Similarly for mobility aircraft, the greatest benefit of SADL is expansion of the airborne network to ground parties.

This allows Airmen in the air and on the ground to work more effectively together.

"The digital map display allowed me to track the location of the aircraft as they made their approach to the drop zone," said Senior Master Sgt. Nick Lowe, a combat controller assigned to the AATC. "This allowed me to better deconflict inbound C-130s from other air traffic near the drop zone and prepare myself to receive the airdrop package. The potential effect SADL has on airlift operations is huge."

Installing SADL on C-130s means aircrews and combat controllers will be able to coordinate airdrops more effectively due to the range of the SADL network, the accuracy of position reporting and the ability to achieve all of this digitally without cumbersome voice communications.

Introducing this capability for C-130s and combat controllers in the field brings mobility aircrews into the common operational picture. Based on SADL's low cost, rapid distribution and compatibility, it's proving to be a functional alternative to existing more costly systems.

AATC's mission is to conduct operational tests on behalf of the Air Reserve Component. They are a small, Total Force team leading the effort to field low-cost, low risk, off-the-shelf improvements to Guard and Reserve systems.