Air Force expands Link 16

Air Force officials will equip more aircraft with the old, slow but reliable Link 16 during the next five years because they cannot find a better and more secure high-capacity communications system, according to a top warfighting information technology official.

They will expand the use of Link 16 from 700 aircraft in 2004 to 1,380 aircraft by 2009. "Technology doesn't allow us to do anything else," said Maj. Gen. Charles Croom Jr., director of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance infrastructure and deputy chief of staff for warfighting integration. Croom spoke Sept. 14 at the 2004 Vision Conference sponsored by the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association, an industry trade group in Arlington, Va.

Croom said the Air Force's 4,400 aircraft primarily rely on voice as their means of communications. He said the service's fleet will not achieve fully capable network and data centricity until 2009.

Link 16 transmits voice, data and navigational information at a rate of 126 kilobits/sec to Army, Navy and Air Force vehicles and units equipped with the common communications link. By accessing command and control networks, the system gives warfighters a picture of the battlefield, including the positions of enemy forces, targets and threats.

Link 16 operates on two types of terminals developed by Data Link Solutions LLC. BAE Systems and Rockwell Collins Inc. formed the joint venture company in 1996.

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