Data Links

Timber Express – From idea to implementation in next to no time

Timber Express – From idea to implementation in next to no time

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TIMBER EXPRESS is a German Air Force exercise focusing on the exchange of real-time situation information (e.g. air situation pictures) between all participating units and weapon systems. The participants include the Army, the Navy, the Cyber and Information Domain Service and the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support, but also NATO and partner nations. What is new in 2023 is live firing as a result of the integrated system of reconnaissance, command and control, and engagement. The exercise has become well-established at an international level and will be taking place for the seventh time. But how did TIMBER EXPRESS actually come into being?

The logo of the exercise includes the reflection of a train in a reptile eye on a polygonal background.

TIMBER EXPRESS exercise is taking place in Jagel this year and once again offers challenges and advantages for the Bundeswehr


The idea for the TIMBER EXPRESS exercise originated in the need to meet the challenges of data link exchange and keep the specialist personnel proficient. In 2016, the specialist branch responsible for this task within the German Air Force Headquarters decided to set up an exercise exclusively for tactical data links (TDLs). TDLs play an essential role not only at national level but also in an international environment. 

Why is it necessary to practice data exchange?

One of the greatest challenges in connection with TDLs is the fact that there are many different implementation and update levels in different weapon systems. The weapon system updates needed for software changes and their subsequent verification require enormous amounts of time and great coordination efforts. Thus, weapon systems are not available for extended periods of time, which does not exactly facilitate implementation considering the current commitments of the German Air Force. This may be compared to different versions of an operating system: It makes a difference whether an iPhone is operated using iOS6, iOS12 or iOS16. And it is by no means insignificant that in this example the data exchange between the three iPhones would work smoothly. This also applies to our weapon systems with their different TDL implementations. It must be ensured that all participants in the exercise can communicate via data links. For this reason, data exchange must be practiced regularly. 

Two soldiers maintaining the engine of a fighter jet.

Technicians check the final configurations on the Tornado before a flight during the TIMBER EXPRESS 2021 exercise

Bundeswehr/Falk Bärwald

TIMBER EXPRESS was thought up in the garden

Chief Master Sergeant Dirk Ritter, who has been working in the field of TDLs since 2007, and his superior, Lieutenant Colonel Volker Schaaf, had an essential part in the development of TIMBER EXPRESS. As is the case for any major project, a brainstorming session was to be held to gather some initial ideas. Dirk Ritter was at home on sick leave with a plaster cast on his leg just then, however. Lieutenant Colonel Schaaf therefore proposed a simple solution: If Dirk Ritter was unable to come to the German Air Force Headquarters, everyone would have to come to him. And as a result, the basic elements of the exercise were thought up in the garden of Dirk Ritter.

The name “TIMBER EXPRESS” was derived from a combination of two terms: “Timber” is a term from NATO language for Link 16, one of the most commonly used data links. "Express" refers to the short period elapsing from the beginning of the planning of the first TIMBER EXPRESS exercise in July 2016 to its implementation in March 2017.

A fixed date in the international sphere

TIMBER EXPRESS offered and continues to offer a unique opportunity to train TDL personnel in an exercise scenario. The exercise continually presents new challenges and problems for participants to cope with, enabling the personnel involved to acquire valuable experience. The exercise has become a fixed date for allied nations. The joint approach and close cooperation between the military and industry enable the participants to gain valuable insights that further improve the efficiency and interoperability of data links and thus strengthen the capabilities of the armed forces.

Lieutenant Colonel Schaaf and Chief Master Sergeant Ritter have played a major role in making TIMBER EXPRESS a success over the years. These two will also be involved in this year’s exercise on site in JAGEL: Lieutenant Colonel Schaaf as the person bearing the overall responsibility for the exercise and Chief Master Sergeant Ritter as one of the project officers. In addition, Chief Master Sergeant Ritter will act as operator of a multi-link gateway installed in a CH-53 helicopter. The CH-53 will be used as a platform carrier for the technical verification of a multi-link gateway during the exercise.

by Stephan Prietzel