Are You Friend or Foe? Why the New NATO Mode 5 Requirement Matters.

If you support NATO military forces, you need to be identifiable with a Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder. The National Security Agency, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and NATO required switching to Mode 5 by July 1, 2020. Most of the significant military aircraft manufacturers have already integrated Mode 5 transponders into their large platforms, including jets like the F-15 and 16. However, the UAV market, which is also included in this requirement, has fallen behind in meeting this obligation.

Mode 5 is an air-combat identification system which positively distinguishes friendly from enemy aircraft, reducing fratricide and unauthorized incursions. The technology employs spread-spectrum radio transmissions that are difficult for adversaries to intercept or jam and encrypts data with keys that change every few seconds.

Sagetech Avionics is in the final stages of certification (currently accepting pre-orders) for our MX12B Mode 5 IFF device. Set to be released later this year, the MX12B will be the only military certified Mode 5 transponder available with size and weight suitable for small and medium-sized UAVs to meet this requirement.

Transponders & Interrogation Modes

transponder is an electronic device that produces a response when it receives a radio-frequency interrogation. Aircraft utilize transponders to assist in identifying them on ATC radar and as a means of detecting aircraft at risk of colliding with one another.

Each transponder is programmed to provide standard static flight information such as a squawk code for identification, and dynamic data such as pressure altitude, position, and airspeeds to the interrogating Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR).  Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is a system wherein the aircraft transponder automatically broadcasts similar information at fixed intervals without an interrogation.

A “Mode” or interrogation type is determined by pulse spacing between two or more interrogation pulses. Many modes exist, including numbered Modes 1 through 5 for military use, Mode A, Mode C, and Mode S for civilian purposes. Mode 5 IFF is an enhancement to legacy Mode 4 IFF, which uses Morse code-like signals and has been in use since the 1950s for military identification.

Crowded Military UAV Airspace

It wasn’t that long ago that NATO militaries were the sole users of military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. In 2020, most world powers and even local militias currently have contracts with drone manufactures who produce fleets of UAVs for military purposes.

According to a study written by the Center for New American Security, “today, nearly 90 states and non-state actors have access to midsize drones that have greater range, endurance, and payload capacity than their hobbyist counterparts. Increasingly, these systems will be not only armed but also capable of carrying more sophisticated, releasable munitions that will, in turn, enhance their ability to conduct precision attacks. “

Source: Center for New American Security, http://drones.cnas.org

Source: Center for New American Security, http://drones.cnas.org

With so many UAVs now in operation throughout the world, it became urgent that all friendly (NATO) aircraft communicate using the same Mode 5 encrypted messages to avoid fratricide and unauthorized/ surprise incursions from enemy planes.

Sagetech Addressing the Need

At Sagetech Avionics, we’re wrapping up our AIMS certification this fall on the MX12B Mode 5 miniature transponder, making it the only military certified Mode 5 transponder available for UAVs. The MX12B is an advanced miniature Mode 5 transponder that enables unmanned aircraft to interoperate in NATO military airspace, at minimal weight-cost.

We are currently initiating pre-orders to ease demand issues and are currently helping customers with implementation planning (including ITAR related paperwork) to begin the integration of military certified Mode 5 transponders (the MX12B).

If you are interested, we have open time slots this week to discuss allocating state-of-the-art MX12B units for your company and mapping out an implementation strategy to avoid lag in lead time in getting you integrated with the only military certified Mode 5 transponder available for small to medium-sized UAVs. If you have any questions, please email us at info@sagetech.com.