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AFNORTH meets new data link milestone with Pocket-J

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The United States has another vital tool to use in the global war on terror with the implementation of a new communication system as Maj. Gen. Hank Morrow, 1st Air Force commander, declared the Pocket-J system operationally acceptable Nov. 5.

"This new data link capability represents a profound leap forward in technology," said Maj. Brian Lehew, 1st Air Force Joint Interface Control Officer. "By declaring it operationally acceptable, we gain a significant communications edge."

The Pocket-Js are ground stations that allow the Continental U.S. NORAD Region, or CONR, and Air Forces Northern's two Air Defense Sectors to directly communicate over data-links to fighter, command and control, and other data link equipped aircraft. This allows pilots to get a visual representation of where a track of interest, commonly referred to as a TOI, is rather than relying solely on voice communication to locate errant aircraft.

The stations compress the time needed to build the air picture pilots use to pursue the TOI -- they begin receiving TOI information on a cockpit display before they take off. This reduces nonsecure voice transmissions, and the potential for confusion between the cockpit and air defense sector controllers on the ground.

Pocket-J provides a faster and more complete air picture to the Combined Forces Air Component Commander and the pilot -- better ensuring safety and accuracy for the air sovereignty mission.

Prior to Pocket-J, sector controllers would use voice-only communications to provide the information to the CFACC and pilot. This took extra time and increased the potential for human error.

"This changes the way we control all of our airborne assets in all mission areas," Major Lehew said. "In congested, FAA-controlled airspace, there's absolutely no margin for error. Pocket-J simplifies a very complex airspace environment by allowing every operator -- from the CFACC to the controller to the fighter pilot -- to display and operate from the same air picture. This greatly decreases the risk of fratricide and increases situational awareness."

While operational now at a few locations, it will take several more years before the entire program is completed. Collectively, the Pocket-J network will provide a broad area of data link coverage across the continental United States.

"We accepted the Pocket-J operationally," General Morrow said. "By doing so, our Air Defense Sectors at McChord AFB and Rome, N.Y., can better communicate with fighters anywhere and at anytime in the United States."