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SATURN radio connects U.S. forces to allies

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- The Air-to-Ground Tactical Data Links team, headquartered at Hanscom Air Force Base, has been working to provide the Department of Defense with an anti-jam, hack-proof and high-frequency radio system to improve communication with allies.

In July 2018, the DOD chief information officer mandated that the Second Generation Anti-Jam Tactical Ultra-High Frequency Radio, or SATURN, designed for NATO will replace the current HAVE QUICK II system across all services by Oct. 1, 2024.

The upgrade to SATURN will provide U.S. forces with an improved radio resistant to jamming through fast-frequency hopping and digital modulation techniques.

“Since all the services use ultra-high-frequency voice components in their tactical air-to-air and air-to-ground voice communications, the entire DOD will benefit from this upgrade,” said Eugene Johnson, SATURN program manager. “SATURN will provide a more resilient, ultra-high frequency voice communications capability for operations in contested environments, and also a clearer and better performing voice capability in benign environments.”

Estimates suggest that more than 18,000 radios using HAVE QUICK II must be replaced with the ultra-high frequency technology.

“The impact that SATURN will have across the DOD fleet is huge,” said Capt. Shaun Perry, a former SATURN program manager. “Technology has caught up with jamming environments, and it is more important than ever for us to be connected on the same frequencies as our NATO allies.”

The Air Force, along with several NATO allies and the MITRE Corp., worked together to develop an early version of SATURN at Hanscom AFB in the 1980s. Although France and the United Kingdom adopted SATURN in 1989, the U.S. declined because of the high cost associated with fielding.

The specifications that allow for international interoperability of SATURN are detailed in a NATO standardization agreement. The team uses these specifications as the basis for developing their version of SATURN.

“What we’re doing for our U.S. version is developing 16 optional modes so that our radio is not only interoperable with our NATO allies, but we have international specification across the entire industry,” Perry said. “This technology already exists, so it just makes sense for the U.S. to get onboard with SATURN.”

The Air-to-Ground Tactical Data links team is currently developing a budget proposal for the anticipated fielding of SATURN.

Air to Ground, Tactical Data Links is a branch of the Aerial Networks Division of the Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence and Networks directorate.