The U.S. Air Force is looking to correct cybersecurity shortfalls in a wing-mounted flight training system used by its older F-16 and F-15 fighters–a remedy that will likely be important for secure data exchange between those aircraft and Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35s, which carry an internal version of the system.
This month, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio released a pre-solicitation for a System Security Upgrade (SSU) for Cubic Corp.‘s [CUB] P5 Combat Training System (P5CTS) instrumentation pods. The SSU is to replace the P5CTS Data Guard Processor (DGP) with a National Security Agency-certified Type 1 encryption device to improve cyber protection of the P5CTS Airborne Subsystem’s (AS) data-link.
The cybersecurity upgrade “is to address the security shortfalls of the current P5CTS configuration,” per the pre-solicitation. “It will require the production of field installable retrofit kits for the Airborne Subsystem (AS) and integrate the SSU modification into the overall P5CTS architecture. The government intends to purchase up to 1,015 SSU AS kits for this effort. In addition, this effort will include kit integration and qualification, and provisional spares.”
During training sorties, wing-mounted P5CTS pods for non-stealth aircraft–and an internal F-35 system–are to display the live-air picture, record mission data, aid weapons engagements, and relay time, space, and position information among aircraft.
Last September, the Air Force awarded Cubic a $193.3 million contract to continue support through September, 2027 for almost 1,000 P5CTS Airborne Subsystems and range infrastructure at more than 20 Air Force bases and training ranges, as well as support for the use of P5CTS by allied countries, including the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Australia, Egypt, Morocco, and Singapore.
The Air Force Armaments Directorate at Eglin AFB, Fla, said that the service has 947 P5CTS pods that it can use on 4th generation fighter aircraft, including the Air Force F-15, F-16, and A-10 aircraft and the U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Last September, Cubic said that it expected to deliver 250 AS to the Air Force and international customers this year.
Jonas Furukrona, vice president and general manager of Cubic Air Training Solutions, said that the expected deliveries would be “concurrent to the activation of the F-35 P5 Internal Subsystem [IS] being connected to training ranges worldwide, enabling integrated fourth- and fifth-generation training that was not available in the past.”
Cubic said that all F-35s have the P5 IS for the provision of encrypted Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) for U.S. and allied forces to train on a common ACMI platform. Cubic said that the company and its P5CTS subcontractor, Leonardo DRS, have delivered more than 2,000 P5CTS AS globally and 789 F-35 P5 IS to Lockheed Martin–most of which are flying in U.S. and allied F-35s.
Crystal Nguyen, a Cubic spokeswoman, wrote in an email on Apr. 20 that the company has received contracts for 1,187 F-35 P5 IS, which provide National Security Agency (NSA) Type 1 encrypted air combat training for the U.S.. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied nations.
“We anticipate the U.S. government will publish a competitive RFP for the P5 SSU in the near future to complement the F-35 P5 IS,” she wrote. “Once fielded, P5 SSU and F-35 P5 IS will fulfill the Air Force’s encrypted training requirements.”
In its pre-solicitation this month, AFLCMC said that “a security upgrade” for P5CTS “must be completed.”
“Headquarters Air Combat Command requires implementation of an encrypted P5CTS data link to a) protect tactics and training methods and b) allow 4th generation aircraft to engage the F-35 during training missions,” per the pre-solicitation.
“The solution identified is a shop-replaceable retrofit kit to replace the obsolete Data Guard Processor (DGP) in the Airborne Subsystem (AS)/pods that consists of a Data Security Module (DSM), and a P5 AS modified End Cap (MEC), interface cable(s) and associated hardware,” the pre-solicitation said. “The DSM shall encrypt data through a National Security Agency (NSA) certified Type 1 encryptor and provide a NSA certified control interface that enables or restricts the access or transfer of information between security domains.”
AFLCMC said that it intends to award a firm fixed price, six-year contract for the security upgrade for P5CTS.
Cubic received the initial P5CTS contract in 2003 and delivered its first wing-mounted P5CTS pods for Air Force F-16s in 2006.