Normandie‘s crew conducted these tests during the frigate’s long cruise, a long duration deployment to test all of the ship’ systems ahead of its formal admission into active duty.
L22 is a NATO secure digital radio link in the HF and UHF bands that provides Beyond Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) communications. It interconnects air, surface, subsurface, and ground-based tactical data systems, and it is used for the exchange of tactical data among military units.
L22 will eventually replace the existing L11 version of tactical data link designed in the 1960s. This new generation of data link brings many advantages:
- It meets the latest standards in terms of information security and transmission security through dynamic reorganization of the communication network and the combined use of an HF and UHF transmission mesh with possibility of frequency hopping.
- UHF links are intended for transmissions to optical range only while HF links are dedicated to long-range transmissions.
- The use of radio transmissions offers the strategic advantage of not being dependent on satellite networks.
- Finally, the L22 remains compatible with existing L11 or L16 links and offers a real depth with a range beyond the horizon.
Thanks to these advantages, the L22 is suitable for all warfare domains, in particular anti-surface (ASuW) and anti-submarine (ASW) warfare, the main missions of FREMM multi-mission frigates.
To learn more about L22 and what it will bring to the French Navy, Naval News asked a a few questions to Lt Cdr (Capitaine de Corvette) Fabrice, Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) aboard FREMM Normandie.
Xavier Vavasseur – Naval News: Which new capabilities does L22 brings compared to L11?
Lt Cdr Fabrice – SWO FREMM Normandie: To make a parallel with L11, L22 is an improved version, modernized with increased capacities. The name of the L22 program reflects this: NILE for NATO Improved Link Eleven. The L11, designed in the 1960s, needs a replacement to face new threats and meet modern demands. This is the goal of L22. As such and compared to L11, L22 meets the latest standards in terms of communication security and transmission security. To do this, it is robust, resilient and easily reconfigurable. On the other hand, it can also rely on the advantages of its predecessor: UHF and HF data transmission. UHF in optical range for high speed and HF for long range but at lower speed. L22 does not depend on the satellite segment which is now disputed. It is freed from it, it is a real strategic advantage. Finally, L22 is complementary and compatible with the other data links (L11 and L16). Compared to L11, its messaging is enhanced. It can carry much more information. L22 messaging is similar to that of L16, using the same format, functionality and modernity. During the deployment of Normandie, L22 made it possible, for example, to exchange command and control (C2) and network management orders (network administration – exchange of roles and technical functions) without using a radio frequency coordination. Unlike L11, L22 messaging also supports its administration. Thanks to these advantages, L22 is suitable for naval-air and anti-submarine operations.
Xavier Vavasseur – Naval News: What type of data is shared with L22?
Lt Cdr Fabrice – SWO FREMM Normandie: L22 allows vessels and aircraft and their combat system to automatically exchange tactical information, to develop and share a common tactical situation picture and thus to be able to take joint and coordinated action. In other words, L22 makes it possible to exchange and broadcast on a network the tracks obtained by the sensors of a vessel or aircraft. A unit shares what it detects and in exchange receives from others what it cannot perceive with its own sensors. These exchanges of tracks constitute the first level of collaboration. Data links, like L22, also allow a force to be led at the tactical level by sending command and control (C2) orders: assigning and sending missions to a unit via the data link. Sharing a common tactical situation allows the force commander to better understand his environment and therefore to command better. As such, data links are essential. L22 is a vehicle for joint (ed. note: between multi-services, army, navy, air force) and combined (ed. note: between allies) interoperability. The L22 tests carried out by the frigate Normandie with Canada and the Netherlands illustrate this.
Xavier Vavasseur – Naval News: Will L22 ultimately contribute to implementing “Veille Cooperative Navale” (the French CEC) over greater distances?
Lt Cdr Fabrice – SWO FREMM Normandie: A data link such as L22 and the Veille Cooperative Navale (VCN) are two very different but complementary things. A tactical data link makes it possible to exchange tactical data (tracks, messages) i.e. data processed and usable by all the units present on the network while the VCN is the sharing of technical data, detection data such as a radar plot. The VCN makes it possible to improve the tracking or detection of a contact by a unit by making it benefit from detection contributions, e.g. radar plot from another unit which also tracks this contact. It’s a multi-sensor, multi-carrier pursuit. The VCN is not yet operational in the French Navy. It remains a field of research and innovation, the operational application of which will only see the light of day in several years. The VCN is a technical cooperation between vessels. L22 (like other data links) is the first layer of collaborative combat (as far as liaisons are concerned).
Xavier Vavasseur – Naval News: How do you install L22 on a vessel? Is it a “simple” rack and a software update or is it a more complex operation?
Lt Cdr Fabrice – SWO FREMM Normandie: Following the FREMM Normandie, the next vessels set to be fitted with L22 are a PHM and an FS (ed note: PHM: Patrouilleur de haute-mer also known as D’Estienne d’Orves-class aviso / OPV. FS: Frégate de surveillance also known as Floréal-class frigate). On each vessel, the installation of the L22 capacity requires a connection with the combat system, so that the exchanged tracks can be exploited tactically. On board the PHM and the FS, the combat systems are simple since they are limited to a tactical situation awareness role. The integration of L22 into these systems will be carried out in collaboration with each of the manufacturers who designed them.
For FREMM Normandie, it is a complex operation because it is the first FREMM but also the first vessel of the French Navy to have the L22 capacity. It is a complex operation because it is a mater of integrating it into the combat system i.e. the combat system must know how to pilot and dialogue with L22. In simple words, this means that an operator from his dialogue console with the combat system in the combat information center (CIC) must be able to configure the hardware of the L22 chain and use it operationally. For FREMM Normandie, this represented a real challenge, a new field: installation of equipment on board, implementation of all L22 functionalities in the combat system…. Ultimately, the other FREMMs will benefit from the work carried out in Normandie. And then, we can talk about a simple software update and the addition of a simple rack.
Xavier Vavasseur – Naval News: Which vessels will get L22? Are some of them already “operational” with L22 or are they still in the experimental phase?
Lt Cdr Fabrice – SWO FREMM Normandie: The L22 is in the deployment phase within the Force d’Action Navale. The FREMM Normandie is the first vessel of the French Navy to be fitted with it and a second FREMM should follow soon. The FREMM-DA (ed. note: Alsace-class air defense FREMM) will feature L22 as well from their commissioning. Ultimately, all first-line vessels as well as all Floreal-class frigates and OPVs will get L22. Remember that L22 will eventually replace L11. While still in deployment phase, L22 is already operational aboard Normandie as evidenced by the tests carried out with Canada and the Netherlands. We are now entering a phase of ramp-up in order to understand, as with all new equipment, the capabilities of this new link, but also in terms of staff training in order to enable them to acquire the skills necessary for its use.
Xavier Vavasseur – Naval News: Which foreign navies are already implementing L22 operationally?
Lt Cdr Fabrice – SWO FREMM Normandie: L22 is at the beginning of its deployment phase, it is difficult to answer this question. The NILE program concerns 30 NATO Nations. They are all concerned with the deployment of the L22 because the end of the L11 is scheduled for 2025. France has already started to deploy the L22, it is very involved in the program and its application. Our deployment schedule is in line with that of our allies. The German, Finnish and Dutch partner navies already have L22-equipped units.
Xavier Vavasseur – Naval News: Which Canadian and Dutch ships exchanged data via L22 with FREMM Normandie?
Lt Cdr Fabrice – SWO FREMM Normandie: With Canada, it was a shore-based testing station located in Halifax. With the Netherlands, Normandie carried out tests with the patrol boat HNLMS Zeeland and the shore test station in Den Elder.