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The Timber Express 2020 exercise tested the networking of weapon systems and the exchange of data between them. Timber Express 2020 was a tactical data link exercise involving German and Czech troops. The starting point was Jagel in Schleswig-Holstein. Eurofighters, tornadoes and a P-3C Orion were involved in the air force exercise in June 2020 over the Baltic Sea. A Dutch frigate was another network participant. All systems should exchange their data with each other in almost real time and create a common air situation picture.

In addition to the Air Force and the German Navy with their aircraft, Airbus participated with its Remote Carrier (RC) "Loyal Wingman". The aim of the demonstration in cooperation with the troops was to network the RC with the Eurofighter and Tornado.


Timber Express

Timber Express is an annual exercise. This year's host was the Tactical Air Force Squadron 51 “Immelmann” in Schleswig-Holstein. The focus of the exercise was the data exchange in a multi-link environment in compliance with various NATO degrees of secrecy. Data was transmitted from sea, land and airborne systems.

The use of tactical data links is not limited to the Air Force and Navy. The Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC), fire control officers, also exchange their target data with aircraft using data links - here the Variable Message Format (VMF). In the case of a tornado, this is already partially the case. At Timber Express, this was also possible for the first time with the Eurofighter. Through the use of a tactical gateway (System of Links), the JTAC was able to send its data via VMF. The Eurofighter received this via Link 16. This made target assignments easier, faster and less prone to errors.


Demonstrations with Airbus

In cooperation with Airbus Helicopters and Hensoldt, H145M Link-16 tests were also carried out for the first time in Germany. This means that the H145M can be better used as a means of transport for special forces with the appropriate qualifications. The Bundeswehr procured 15 H145M. The main users are the Special Forces Command (KSK) and the Marine Special Forces Command (KSM).

The Remote Carrier (RC) technology Loyal Wingman was demonstrated for the first time in conjunction with a combat aircraft. This technology is one of the core pieces in the planning of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) project.

“During the exercise, the remote carrier, currently using the Compact Airborne Networking Data Link (CANDL), was successfully connected to Link 16, the armed forces' operational tactical data link. The remote carriers were not only visible to all of the Air Force's tactical combat aircraft, they could also receive and execute commands without the need for technical modifications to the aircraft, ”said Airbus.

Following this exercise, it was demonstrated that the remote carrier is interoperable with the NATO Concept for Cooperative ESM Operations (CESMO). This is a multi-armed intelligence network that aims to locate threat systems in the electromagnetic spectrum in real time.

A mock-up of the Loyal Wingman was shown for the first time during the Paris Air Show in 2019.

In addition to Airbus, MBDA Germany is also working on corresponding remote carriers for FCAS. According to the current status, FCAS should contain two sizes of RCs.


Loyal Wingman not only in Europe

The term Loyal Wingman is also used by Boeing Australia for a project that the US company is carrying out together with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). At the beginning of the year, two milestones were also passed here. The first of three demonstrators was presented publicly and the test series started with soil testing and rolling tests. The first flight is scheduled for the course of the year. The new drone family should serve as the basis for a so-called “Airpower Teaming System” (ATS), which is to be marketed worldwide. The ATS is designed so that the UAV equipped with artificial intelligence can automatically fly next to existing platforms and support them in combat operations.

André Forkert