Is a Lack of Secure Comms Keeping the F-22 Out of Libya Fight?

There’s been lots of speculation as to why the F-22s haven’t been sent to Libya; everything from basing concerns to the embarrassment the U.S. would suffer if one of its premiere jets went down in Libya.

An anonymous tipster points out another little fact that may have contributed to the lack of Raptors in Op Odyssey Dawn; the jet’s don’t have the ability to pass secure info to other NATO planes due to their lack of the Link-16 datalink. Instead, the F-22 uses something called the Intra-Flight Data Link (IFDL, pronounced “eye-fiddle”) to pass all sorts of info to other F-22s without being detected by the enemy.  The problem is, the Raptor’s advanced data link only works with other Raptors.

The Air Force is currently working to install Harris’ Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL, pronounced “maddle”) in the Raptor. This will allow it to securely communicate with the nation’s other stealth jets; the B-2 Spirit bomber and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, both of which will also have MADL.

For now, the Raptor fleet can only talk to itself without breaching secure comms.  This may well have been a significant factor in the decision not to include the pane in NATO’s campaign against Gadhafi’s troops.

This situation may not last too much longer, for a few years now, the Air Force has been experimenting with a device that attaches on to the vaunted Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (a system that translates information between the different types of data links used by the U.S. military and its allies) allowing it to interpret data from the Raptor’s IFDL into Link-16’s format.


49 Comments on "Is a Lack of Secure Comms Keeping the F-22 Out of Libya Fight?"

  1. True. But the F-22's original use as a air superiority fighter speaks to the need of being able to intercommunicate with other aircraft in the battlespace. Unless the F-22 was actually intended as some sort of deep-strike fighter (as all stealth aircraft were in the Cold War era), where communication with other F-22's would be the bare minimum; but some sort of communication with B-2 and (at the time) F-117 would not be out of the question.

    More likely Lockheed had a fancy communications gizmo all lined up and the Air Force shot it down, so it got shipped with F-22 only communications. Any chance JSF will have this particular issue? Probably not, especially if it goes overseas it will probably have Link 16 standard…

  2. I'm gonna venture out on a limb here and ponder why exactly the F-22 would be needed in Libya, especially since America is dead set on pushing this as a multi-lateral, NATO Op. I mean the French seem to have the airspace patrol down with thier 4th Gen fighters, why foward deploy something as complex as an F-22?

    Talk about not leaving a small foot print….

  3. I completely agree. Great point.

  4. I think the coalition is doing fine with the current tech they're using, no need for a more complex system in this theater.

  5. What good is the "latest and greatest" air-to-air fighter if we can't talk to it. It's like buying a car without air conditioning-very dumb!

  6. While everyone here is off on a tangent, Ares blog got a statement from the horse's mouth. USAF is claiming it was the last minute/ ad hoc planning that forced them to use assets they had available in-theater. Sounds plausible, but then again they had three B-2s go 11,000+ miles round trip… hmmm, what to think?

  7. Seriously? I remembe seeing the movie Apollo 13 where they could not put the carbon scrubbers from the command module into the LEM because 1 was square and 1 was round. That was 40 years ago and we still have these kinds of retarded oversights happening? What bunch of untrained monkeys is running this place?

    Seriously? Nobody thought it would be a good idea for F-22s to be able to communicate with any other plane in our fleet? Anybody remember a few years ago when a F-22 pilot got locked into his cockpit because nobody thought to put a manual handle on the inside (the electronic lock failed). Anybody remember when the F-22s had to have a software patch because they crossed the international date line and almost crashed? Who's running this show?

  8. Want the truth?

    The F-22 is a aircraft with NO mission….

    Everyday that becomes more apparent……

  9. They won’t use it because there are to many bird watchers constantly tracking its every movement from base to base…this is more of a threat than “secure comms”.

  10. Seem like the F-22 has problems if it need complex problems and needs special comms to fight. F-15 of F-35 doesn't need them.

  11. While I also believe the 22 would be overkill in this case, remember that it can RECEIVE data from other planes. I just can't transmit it.

  12. In addition, the f22 can only carry two 1000lb JDAMS. So it is not very useful in the ground attack role.

  13. That's got the ring of truth. One thing that gives me pause though; 1st FW had been planning and prepping for deployment for at least a week before the balloon went up. Wouldn't they have given some thought to the logistics, even in a last minute situation?

    Another thing- I'm a little surprised commenters haven't picked up on that story mentioned in the Twitter feed, top right of the page. The F-22 has been limited in training to 25,000 ft and under since the Alaska crash while they investigate whether the oxygen generator is faulty.

  14. I think a take away for a lot of the world is that the USA took out Libya's air defences, air force and communications so easily. No F22's were used, but neither were any carrier strike groups or B52's. They weren't needed here and they are still available to fight a real war against a more capable foe. And, the same could be done to any number of dictators, using limited assets.

  15. I’m still hazy on why the rebels need ground pounding.

    Saw some “rebel” footage the other night on AC360 of a group of people fighting a tank. What I could see from the video(which was bouncing all over the place) it was a T-54/55 with skirt armor on the hull. There was more footage of destroyed equipment from air strikes of T-72s, wheeled rocket launchers, scud platforms, and 2S6 arty platforms. The classic vanilla variety of RPG-7s and 14s would easily waste all of that. Setting up NFZ to level the field, I got, but CAS? Really?

  16. While a trained light infantry force, hell, probably of BN size, could make a stand against Libya's military, you have to realize that the rebels, for the most part, aren't exactly Benning trained 11Bs. When you're a teenager using an AK-47 and fighting for your freedom against your very own government, knowing how to waste a track in a urban setting by hitting it from above probably doesn't even begin to register.

  17. Stephen Russell | March 25, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Reply

    Have NATO allies pay fee to install like system in its planes, copters alone for F22 use for next war?

  18. The F-22 has Link 16, it can receive incoming, but not transmit.

  19. Good Evening Folks,

    Sounds like someone blowin’ chaff to me. Since all military radios are software defined, what the big deal.

    No the F-22 is just to expensive to RISK in combat of such low value. It was just to much of a risk that one of Gadhafi’s guy would have the best day of his life and make a luck shot or some air defense system would emerge like the one that took down and retired the F-117 in Serbia during the Kosovo War on March 27, 1999.

    With a new congress looking at the funding for the F-35 such an event could kill the F-35. It far better for the USAF to look bad and like a kid with a shinny new bid that doesn’t want to risk scratching the paint on a fall.

    The ironic thing is that for quite awhile now any air wars the US gets into will more resemble Libya rather then the liberation of Europe in 1941-1945. With Syria appearing next on the dance card and the F-18, I did notice the E/F-18G didn’t have any “radio problems” and made it to the Libyan dance where it is doing a great job. I guess the Navy could find the program disc’s.

    Byron Skinner


    “Stewart’s Platoon”

  20. You're not going to need every asset for every force of arms action. The F-22 simply isn't needed for this mission. But, mark my words, when we need the F-22, we're going to REALLY need it…

  21. a few questions: 1) what the hell is the type of target you need the Raptor hitting in Libya? 2) tell me if I am wrong (don't dislike me first) but to my knowledge, only small diameter bombs can fit in a raptors weapons bay, do you really think that using raptors for ground strike missions is the best option? 3) does it really look good for a 5th gen fighter's debut combat?(doing a job that other 4th gen fighter could do, only slightly better?)

  22. Personally, I believe Gates is nixing all of the Block upgrades for F-22's because he does not want it to be a capable fighter. Where are the cheek arrays? ground attack updates? Instead of building the F-35 which has no ability to fight a T-50 or J-20 in a real air to air battle. The Raptor could be improved upon a lot instead of wasting 300 Billion in buying a single engined disaster, but on another note, The F-15 or even A-10's can suffice in this NFZ in Libya.

  23. America has never been shy about using every weapon in the arsenal of democracy. Except the banned ones, if anybody important was around to notice.

    What a wonderful photo op the fighter plane of the future fying top cover while somebody takes out Khaddafi.. Well, who's taking out Khaddafi? The UN might not have noticed, uou can't protect Libyans without 'taking out' Khaddafi.

    He's got light sweet crude did you say ? And 150 BILLION in gold.Why this cakewalk could pay for itself!!

    Free the Raptors fer freedom!

  24. We have a $300 million aircraft and it can't even work with those of our allies? Who allowed our flagship aircraft to enter service without the important capability to network with NATO planes?

  25. I'm sure the F-22's amazing 68% mission ready rate has nothing to do with why they are sitting in their covered parking spots instead of fighting overseas. I'd say the F-22 pilot has the best job in the USAF, but that wouldn't be true because those planes are hot in the summer time and cold in the winter. Pretty much have the crappiest user interface ever designed into an airplane. They made the cockpit TOP SECRET so you'd never know what a piece of crap it is. I can't wait for the F-35, which should have about the same mission ready rate despite the propoganda. Not only will we be screwed with that one, our allies will be in the same boat with us. The gift that just keeps on giving. The really important part is that the contractor building these crappy aircraft continues to make record profits while screwing the US taxpayer and the guys who fight our wars.

  26. Quick note from Canada. I agree with Gates that 180 F 22 can take out any other air force on the planet in an afternoon, so why build more, and they are clearly unnecessary against Libyas air force. Canadian govt just opted for F35 and I think its a mistake. They will be del'd barely in time to replace F-18 IF they are on schedule, and for less money we could get double the number of super-hornets and have a twin-engine plane for long arctic patrols, where pilot extrication can be a significant problem if an engine craps out. I figure super-hornet good to 2030 at least if purchased new and phased in between now and 2015 or even 2020. If you don't have enough planes to do the job, however good the plane, the job doesn't get done. Throw in a dozen growlers and we're golden. I figure. Any thoughts on this? ( Tip of the hat to Canadians US and nato personnel in Afghanistan, and the US in Iraq , we're having an election up here and that makes me think of them these days. )

  27. BRING BACK THE F-117A..Dumb ***** were wrong..The Raptor can not and never be able to do the Nighthawk mission…

  28. I tell you one thing. This is 3 conflicts and we haven't used the F22 to fire a single shot. Our Gen 4 are doing just fine, even in pretty poor shape that they are in apparently with the F15 having the mechanical issue. Over the next few years if we get involved somewhere else and don't use the F22s, and the F35s continue down the cost overrun trail, people are going to start asking why not just buy more teen series updated.

    I read a piece somewhere that canceling the F35 completely and going with updated teen series aircraft would save about $78 billion. That's about what the NGB would cost. I'm not necessarily advocating abandoning advanced aircraft design, but in an age of $14 trillion dollar debts we can't afford major weapons systems that sit out multiple conflicts or ones that keep skyrocketing in price. That's just economic reality. People can be fans of one or the other or not like reading that but it doesn't change facts.

  29. Personally, I do not think any aircraft should ever be designed with only one engine, especially if it's going to cost 200 million a piece. Block upgrades for an f-22, its a brand new aircraft, what the hell could it possibly need. Why waste money on a new toy when your not gonna play with it.

  30. I would because the best pilots in the USAF would be driving them. I paid for this bird, let it earn it's keep.

  31. George N. Roll, Ltc. | March 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Reply

    The Preident of the United States does not like the F-22. When he made a speech at an USAF Base in Alaska the dias had been set up with an F-22 in the background, White House staffers insisted the F-22 be removed and an older F-15 be put in it's place so the President would not seem to be endorsing the F-22 (which happens to be the hotest fighter in the world). Whith this kind of political climate it is no wonder the F-22 has not made an appearance in the sky over Libia. That said the Libians are not activly challanging our air superiority with their own air assets. Like the Iraq AF if they fly they know that they will die, so if they fly it will only be to escape from air bombardment.

  32. Could you give details on your plan to move Arleigh Burke's & Tico's into the mountains of Afghanistan?

  33. I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned this: the FRENCH are there listening with their electronic toys. Y expose the F-22 to them when there's no need?

  34. F22 is a plane that will mot likely newer see action as its a dog to maintain and due to budget cuts the electronics are not quite what they were supposed to be ,talk about digital datalink Mig 31 had it in 1980 lack of IRST that all eastern planes had in late 70's and most 4th gen fighter in the world have it now or in pipline for upgrades ,lack of jamming equipment ,laser designator limited ground attack capability .
    Not to mention F22 is being kept in the dark so that 'friends and foes' wouldn't gather to much radar intel on it all in all it will run out airframe hours or corrode before it is used in a war.

  35. Opine
    1. An ex LM Raptor EMD participant here.
    Comms in the Raptor were INITIALLY intended to talk to all forces. USAF and LM worked the Comms to support a FLEET of Raptors, dominate airspace theories etal. Hence, the Comms came down to talking only to the Airspace Combatants, AKA A Nato/ Russion confict.
    My guess as to why the Raptors aren’t on scene in the Med.
    1. Alaska is a far piece to project Dominant Airspace power. NK, China, etc. are still on the front burner in the Pacific.
    2. There simply was not an air force to dominant by the time Obama got around to needing a dominant fighter force.
    3. Losing an F15 was bad enough, losing a Stealth Fighter would not be smart. Albeit, the only threat would be missles and an accident.
    4. Raptors are few, due to the budget cuts over the years 1992 to now. We have few of these assets, and need every one.
    Raptors are very special assets. They are the USAF Pride and Joy. Flyers love them, and they can do everything advertised, in spades.
    Semper FI

  36. By the way, the F-22's real nickname in the USAF is "Precious".

  37. No surprise here. The Air FARCE leaves secure commo as an afterthought. There were complaints back in 1980 that only TEN PERCENT OF THE AF'S PLANES HAD SECURE COMMO on board. I see not much has changed in the Air FARCE's commo planning and capabilities. What a flustercuck.

  38. So it has been 9 or so conflicts now that we have used any nuclear weapons. Does that mean we shouldn't have made all of them? Its called deterence. The F-22 has its part in the defense of our country, shooting down trainers in Lybia is not it.

  39. Byron Skinner | March 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Reply

    Good Morning Folks,

    Regardless of why the F-22 didn’t make it to the party, it turned out that they were not needed. The French F-3 Rafale flying off the De Gualle has been kicking Colonel Gadhafi’s butt. Right now the Rafale F-3 is the bad boy of hostile skies until somebody else can PROVE otherwise, Viva France.

    The F-22 can go back to shadowing Boeing 737’s around the US. Ah, how many cup holder do you get with the F-22 for $250 million plus bucks?

    It would seem that the rather budget priced Rafale F-3 ($30-$50 million USD’s vs. $96-$150 million USD for the F-35) is more then enough fighter aircraft for the coming decades. The F-22 is just more expensive overkill and the F-35 will be just as useless.

    The E/F-18G Growler at $70 million UDS’s seems to be a far better deal for the tax payer the the F-35.

    Oh by the way the F-18 can and has trapped on board and then shot off from the de Gualle as the Rafale has been from a US carrier. Maintenance crew from a US carrier and the de Galle switched engines on each others aircraft.

    Byron Skinner


  41. Let's reserve it for future conflict, like if we were attack by Rooskies, Norks and Chicons.

  42. It has taken that long to get the bugs worked out of the F15 & F-16. By the way I first worked on F-16's in 1981( they had been in service about 4 years then). The F-22 was already to the flying prototype stage and crashed the first one in 1982. This plane was in development over 20 years and stuff like this is still an issue. I haven't worked on the F-15 strike eagle, but I think it could carry the load for 10 -15 more years and it's proven.

  43. We could beat the present threat w/ P-51s

  44. obvously in these "wars" it hasn't been against anyone with any sort of airpower great enough to worry about even sending the f22… You wouldn't be saying that shit if we went to war with russia next month…we would be using them. You spew ignorance.

  45. The reason they did not use the F22 is because it's an expensive piece of crap that can be easily shot down because the active stealth system does not work most of the time and the passive stealth is not that good. They are afraid that the Libyan's would shoot it down before it could strike any targets and they would be so embarrassed.

  46. Let an F-22 do a fly-by over gaddafi's tent,balls to the wallat100feet. He may have an attitude change that couhasten the outcome of this mess.

  47. What the F___ are you talking about??? As far as France goes (a few F-22's) could take out their whole air force. Stop pretending that a NATO force attacking a backwards 10 rate military with 1950's weapon systems is a real accomplishment. The only modern equipment they had was taken out by US cruise missles to clear the way. A few of our A-10's is all thats needed. Wish we still had some P-51's.

  48. awefully expensive aircraft to fly where there really isn't any need. As for using Iraq and Afghanistan for practice…well to be honest accidents (birdstrikes etc) and emergencies do happen and the USA remains a pretty friend place with lots of places to MAYBE recover a distressed aircraft. But even Iraq and Afghanistan pose a lethal environment to a partially or totally disabled aircraft. Once you have an engine fire its amazing how much easier it is to hit you as you try to land and no go arounds to clear the perimeter of hostiles.

    Heck the #1 issues is the lack of alternative landing zones. And in hostile areas you have to blow up your aircraft to prevent intact capture. The USA many landing areas including private strips and if you land intact you don't need to blow up the aircraft.

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