With Link 16, military aircraft as well as ships and ground forces may exchange their tactical picture in near-real time. Link 16 also supports the exchange of text messages, imagery data and provides two channels of digital voice (2.4 kbit/s and/or 16 kbit/s in any combination). Link 16 is defined as one of the digital services of the JTIDS / MIDS in NATO's Standardization Agreement STANAG 5516. MIL-STD-6016 is the related United States Department of Defense Link 16 MIL-STD.
Link 16 is a TDMA-based secure, jam-resistant, high-speed digital data link which operates in the radio frequency band 960–1,215 MHz, allocated in line with the ITU Radio Regulations to the aeronautical radionavigation service and to the radionavigation satellite service. This frequency range limits the exchange of information to users within line-of-sight of one another, although with satellite capabilities and adhoc protocols, it is nowadays possible to pass Link 16 data over long-haul protocols such as TCP/IP using MIL-STD 3011 (JREAP) or STANAG 5602 (SIMPLE). It uses the transmission characteristics and protocols, conventions, and fixed-length or variable length message formats defined by MIL-STD 6016 and STANAG 5516 (formerly the JTIDS technical interface design plan). Information is typically passed at one of three data rates: 31.6, 57.6, or 115.2 kilobits per second, although the radios and waveform FHSS itself can support throughput values well over 1 Mbit/s.
Link 16 information is primarily coded in J.-series messages which are binary data words with well-defined meanings. These data words are grouped in functional areas, and allocated to network participation groups (NPG) (virtual networks), most importantly:
Some examples of platforms currently using the Link 16 capability are:
The U.S. Army is integrating Link 16 into select command and control elements of its UH-60 Black Hawk fleet, and intends to pursue fielding to AH-64 Apache and other aviation assets.
The USAF will add Link 16 to its B-1 and B-52 bombers with the Common Link Integration Processing system. A key exception is the F-22 Raptor which can only receive but not transmit Link-16 data. According to the Air Force, transmitting data would reveal its location.
Link 16 is intended to advance Tactical Data Links (TDLs) as the NATO standard for data link information exchange. Link 16 equipment is located in ground, airborne, and sea-based air defense platforms and selected fighter aircraft. The U.S. industry is now developing a new Link 16 SCA compliant radio MIDS-JTRS which currently is projected to implement nine various tactical waveforms, including Link 16.
The MIDS program, which manage the development of the communication component for Link 16, is managed by the International Program Office located in San Diego, California. In the United States, the lead Air Force command for the MIL-STD-6016 standard, plans, and requirements is the Air Force Global Cyberspace Integration Center at Langley AFB, with JTIDS program execution managed by the 653d Electronic Systems Wing at Hanscom AFB near Boston, Massachusetts. The MIL-STD-6016 Standard configuration management custodian is the Defense Information Systems Agency.
At the same time, the company is working on enabling the Raptor to transmit Link 16 signals—currently the aircraft can only receive Link 16—and fielding Increment 3.2B, a new software load that will allow the F-22 to take full advantage of the AIM-9X and AIM-120D Amraam missiles.