Taking the Challenge

Two specially modified airborne warning and control system aircraft are participating in the Empire Challenge 2008 joint military exercise that began on Monday to demonstrate new network-centric capabilities for the platform, lead contractor Boeing announced yesterday. Among the new features on the two AWACS platforms, which are assigned to the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker AFB, Okla., are the high-speed tactical targeting network technology system to link them with other airborne assets for quick data exchange, and the Inmarsat beyond-line-of-sight communications capability so that onboard battle managers can communicate with their counterparts on the ground, the company said. Further, AWACS operators will have a second display at their consoles on which they will be able to track friendly forces, receive updates on air tasking orders and time-critical targets, and engage in secure Internet chat rooms. The demonstration will also allow USAF officials to preview the Block 40/45 mission system upgrade that is in development, Boeing said. Empire Challenge runs through Aug. 1 at China Lake, Calif.