Improve link reach, resilience and relevance 16: sponsored content

As military operations increasingly depend on networked sensors and shooters working together seamlessly, there is a growing need to share critical real-time information to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. .

Resilient waveforms such as the Link 16 Tactical Data Link will be key components of the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) approach to networked warfare. Introduced 40 years ago to coordinate NATO air defenses during the Cold War, Link 16 communications continue to evolve into smaller and more diverse form factors, ranging from theater commands to individual combatants.

Prior to the development of Link 16, many platforms basically used their own proprietary data links. However, one of the goals of Link 16 was to provide a common data link that every department could use that matched or exceeded the bespoke equipment they were using, says Jamie King, systems engineer at Viasat.

The effect on air defense operations was revolutionary. Prior to Link 16, typical command and control (C2) for air defense consisted of a command center that directed aircraft to coordinates provided by ground-based radar, says Pete Camana, Viasat business development manager for tactical data links. With Link 16, information about incoming threats was distributed over communications networks to units best able to counter them and information such as radars and sensor tracks could be shared between aircraft in that unit.

“You get a common operational picture that everyone sees, and that makes a real difference,” Camana says.

Another example of this change is how air and ground coordination for close air support is now handled. Traditionally, ground controllers guided attack aircraft using voice. Once the ground controller has given these commands, the pilot must replay the sequence to verify that he received it correctly, notes Camana.

Link 16 changed this as it allows the ground controller to share information directly from their user device directly to the aircraft computer in much the same way data link allows aircraft to share radar tracking data to intercept enemy planes, Camana explained.

Change over time

Although Link 16 became the waveform of choice for warfighters, the U.S. military and its allies were limited by the need for large radios that were typically operated from aircraft and on the ground (C2), says King . With this limitation of Link 16 employment across all combat forces, it has become necessary for data link gateways to translate data to other waveforms, which can introduce the potential for latency. and errors.

With Link 16 on more tactical platforms, services are doing more to deliver the waveform to warfighters while reducing the need for data translation and the risk of errors. This expansion, however, requires an evolution in network design, with built-in information exchange requirements (IERs) to help warfighters at the tip of the spear, King says.

In addition to providing information to units at the tactical forefront, the Link 16 also enables commanders to receive information, greatly improving their situational awareness in the face of rapidly changing conditions on the ground, he added. .

The introduction of small-form-factor Link 16 terminals has also resulted in an explosion of Link-16-enabled platforms at the tactical level, says Nigel Nurse, Viasat vice president and business line manager for data links. next generation tactics.

“We now have the ability to give every soldier in a battalion, every soldier in a company, a Link 16 portable radio. However, even with the changing nature of warfare, we still use the contours of the networks that were designed 10, 15, 20 years ago. This is where the network must evolve. The nurse explains.

Challenges and Considerations

The US military faces several communications challenges when training in the Continental United States (CONUS). This is because some parts of the spectrum that the military can use abroad are not available at home (inside CONUS), as these parts are either reserved for civilian use or used by other government agencies. Americans such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Camana said.

Since Link 16 radios operate on the same band as radar beacon transponders used by FAA flight controllers, techniques such as frequency remapping (FR) will now allow Link 16 network operation in the United States. United. FR can help move Link 16 into communication bands that the FAA doesn’t use, but it won’t be available until 2025, Nurse says.

Another potential step could involve redesigning communications network architectures to allow for more varied use of Link 16 radios in the United States. This development means that the FAA and other federal agencies are not cataloging every Link 16 radio as a large 200-watt terminal, King says. He adds that this is important because the military plans to equip most soldiers in front-line units with small 8-watt Battlefield and Awareness Targeting System–Dismount (BATS-D) portable radios compatible with Link 16.

“It is possible to have reduced network files for these platforms, just to ensure they are getting exactly what they need, and also to be aware of the timeslot service factor (TSDF) that is of concern the FAA,” King said.

Another challenge is scaling as the DoD plans to deploy up to 15,000 new Link 16-enabled radios. These radios are different from standard military Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) radios, terminal Low Volume (LVT) or Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). King notes that an important issue is helping the military better understand how it can adapt to using these new radios in the United States while adhering to FAA protocols.

From a network planning perspective, they must meet radio user needs and FAA expectations, so more information about training and operational environments is better. For example, “If I tell you that for a training evolution, we can only put 10 BATS-D radios in the field within 2 miles to meet FAA requirements, but in a combat situation there is will be a lot more, it could create problems for training scenarios as you fight. It’s critical to make training and operational network scenarios as close together as possible,” King said.

However, if more details are provided, such as having 10 BATS-D radios all connected to a tactical gateway such as a Move Out/Jump Off (MOJO) radio that connects to a larger network via Link 16 Enhanced Throughput messaging , this would help mitigate TSDF issues in training and combat scenarios, King adds.

Managing commercial aviation frequency requirements through techniques such as frequency remapping and more efficient network design will continue to be a primary concern for any peacetime military training activity in the United States. .

An increase in improvements

With a variety of Link 16 compatible radios and waveforms appearing in recent years, there has also been an increase in technical improvements. An example is Link 16 Enhanced Throughput or LET messaging (packing more data in a time slot), along with other advanced features such as Concurrent Multi-Netting (CMN) and Concurrent Contention Receive (CCR), which allow radios to receive a lot more information in a time slot, says King.

Where older terminals could only receive one message in a time slot, newer MIDS and small form factor radios are capable of receiving up to four transmissions in a time slot or receiving on four models of different jumps.

“This allows these radios to consume more data and to carry out more exchanges of information from those who provide them with the data,” says King.

Another Link 16 application is the Amalgamated Remote Management System (ARMS), which is a Joint Interface Control Officer (JICO) level network management tool designed to provide users with accurate information about what is happening on their Link 16 networks. and report any user who is not functioning according to the network load.

This is important for planning operations in the United States, as it helps JICOs better understand the rules and regulations to ensure that TSDF limits in certain geographies meet FAA regulations, King adds. ARMS helps users understand how much TSDF is occurring in a given geographic area and, by extension, it can help communicate to the FAA how much bandwidth is being used.

ARMS also allows users to manage their networks in an administrative role. For example, if there is a problem with a radio (or radios), ARMS can deactivate, turn off or activate a relay.

“It gives you an active means of network management to make sure you’re following all TSDF rules,” King says.

ARMS also provides a level of network transparency, allowing network designers and technical operators in the field to manage their systems.

Another tool is a network management system called Terminal Operational Environment Simulator (TOES). This allows network designers to create virtual radios in a computing environment to plan a network and ensure that all radios in the system perform as expected and comply with spectrum allocation rules and regulations, King explains.

The goal is not only to improve the reach, resilience and relevance of Link 16, but also to make the entire Link 16 ecosystem more efficient. This includes evolving concept of operations (CONOPS), information exchange requirements (IER), software tools such as ARMS and TOES, and supporting equipment such as tactical gateways, as well as training complete.

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Harry D. Gonzalez