Experts in the Field: How Data Links Ensure Soldier Lethality

Data Links
Capt. Richard Waters, 605th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, tactical air control party air liaison officer, joint terminal attack controller, checks his equipment during the operational assessment of the Hand Held Link 16 radio March 24, 2016, at the Nevada Test and Training Range. The HHL16 provides a tactical data link to joint terminal attack controller and pilots that enables digitally aided close air support integration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nathan Byrnes)

As part of The Modern Battlespace’s “Experts in the Field” series, our editorial team connects with various experts across the defense community to share their experience and insights with our readers. This month, we spoke with Jeff “JD” Davis, Director, Data Link and Networks Solutions Business Development, Mission Systems for Collins Aerospace. Davis and his team communicate the importance of data link solutions and networking waveform capabilities to the Department of Defense.

Davis is a 30-year career U.S. Navy veteran who understands the ins and outs of the warfighter and the battlefield from his experience. He started his career as a Naval Intelligence Officer and soon after became a Naval Aviator, where he flew “some of the coolest jets and aircraft in the Navy,” he told us. He flew the “Big Fighter,” the F-14 Tomcat, for two combat tours, achieving qualification as one of the first certified USN forward air-controllers (JTACS). And he was among the first to drop precision weapons in combat operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. With many missions under his belt, Davis has over 4000 flight hours, 1100 aircraft carrier arrested landings, and over 200 combat sorties.

Data Links
Jeff “JD” Davis, Director, Data Link and Networks Solutions Business Development, Mission Systems for Collins Aerospace

Here’s what he had to share in his conversation with us about the evolving battlefield:

TMB Editors: How do you see the battlefield changing? What excites you about this evolution?

Davis: Looking back on my career, I am struck by how evolutionary, and less revolutionary, our emerging capabilities really are. This is despite lofty efforts to revolutionize; look at the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), three Offset Strategies, or today’s prototyping/demonstration/OTA/MTA activities. Over 30 years, the change has been incremental, with spurts of fast motion. But it takes a long time to get the technologies to the fight and it’s always “just-in-time” or usually available for the next fight.

That said, I would argue that the battlefield largely won’t change…it will be just as hostile, lethal, violent, and destructive as it has ever been. What is changing is the pace and speed of the violence and lethality, and multidomain vectors of that lethality. In tomorrow’s fight, in the highly contested space, this fight for decision-making superiority will be challenged at every level.

What excites me is being part of a team that excels at finding warfighter solutions at this inflection point, particularly as we pivot to help solve the Department of Defense Joint All Domain C2 (JADC2) and Multidomain C2/Operations (MDC2/O) challenges. The network and data links capabilities that Collins Aerospace brings to bear is at the epicenter of that transition – that is exciting!

TMB Editors: How are modern technologies helping our warfighters and peer warfighters today?

Davis: The Collins Aerospace team recognizes that “decision making superiority and dominance” and the ability to deliver kinetic and non-kinetic, precision effects at the speed of relevance, at/to the point of decision is the center of gravity for the U.S. military. Without this, the U.S. warfighter cannot deliver lethal and precise overmatching effects across the battlespace. Our peers recognize this as well. To that, the networks and that “connective tissue,” being the data links, are essential technologies and capabilities to achieving, maintaining and “fighting through” that highly contested fight.

In order to bring the right capabilities to ensure operational and tactical advantage to our warfighters, industry needs to fully understand the problem sets our warfighters are trying to solve. These are tough problems and it’s not enough to provide a “paper” solution to the warfighter. Our program management and engineering teams must work closely to distill the warfighting Concept of Operations and Employments (CONOPS/EMPS) and deeply understand the warfighters’ life and death challenges. This means we need to partner to develop the present and future networking technologies and capabilities needed to ensure that they can maintain and expand the decision-making advantage in the multidomain battlespace.

TMB Editors: Where do you see the future of the battlefield going and how do you think we’ll get there?

Davis: Tomorrow’s battlespace will be much more contested. It will be a three, if not, four-dimensional fight when we include cyber and space-based effects. It will be faster, more adaptable, more precise, more responsive, more challenged, and certainly more violent. Both the U.S. and our peers will synergistically use, exploit, and deny their enemy’s combat effects from all domains simultaneously, including our networks and decision-making center of gravity.

In closing, it’s exciting times for us in supporting our warfighters, but it’s not without its challenges. Our peers have gleaned nearly 20 years of insights into U.S. power projection capabilities, technologies, and warfighting, and they are actively and aggressively responding to it. Thus, it’s incumbent on Collins Aerospace to work tirelessly to help the U.S. warfighter maintain their dominance in the connected battlespace and deliver lethal effects on tomorrow’s battlefield.