Eglin squadron launches support for Link 16 from space

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - The first Link 16 satellites were launched into low-Earth orbit April 2 via Space X Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California as part of Space Development Agency’s Tranche 0 of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture.

Link 16 is a tactical datalink communication system used by the United States, NATO, and coalition forces to transmit and exchange real-time situational awareness data among all network participants.

Tranche 0 includes the Transport and Tracking Layer satellites in low earth orbit.  The Transport satellites will demonstrate low-latency communication links to support the warfighter with a resilient network of integrated capabilities.  The Tracking satellites include new sensors capable of tracking of advanced missile threats.   Eglin’s 46th Test Squadron personnel provided risk reduction support for the Link 16 payload on the satellites before launch and will play a large part in testing them while situated in their new orbits. 

“It was important to ensure all the components of the satellite’s Link-16 system payload are fully operational prior to launch,” said Rick Budd, 46th TS datalink test engineer.  “The unit used the standard buildup approach to demonstrate and validate end-to-end performance, so orbit testing will have as few challenges as possible.”      

Pending favorable spectrum use approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, the 46th Test Squadron will support the Link 16 satellites’ on-orbit demonstration and testing with the Space Development Agency scheduled to begin this summer. These initial satellites are expected to store, relay, send and receive Link 16 messages.

“To quickly deliver capabilities into the hands of the warfighter, we must abide by our guiding principles, one of which says whatever we put up in our architecture must be compatible with receivers the warfighters already use,” said Ryan Frigm, deputy director of SDA. “There’s no extra user equipment needed to be able to tie into that network. Link 16 is the most proliferated tactical data link used by both U.S. and allied forces.”

While in orbit, each satellite will demonstrate the ability to enter a designated Link 16 network and receive and transmit messages within that network.  It will also forward Link 16 messages to and from the ground command and control locations.  Data passage will be demonstrated first with fixed sites such as the 46th Datalinks Test Lab. Eventually, aircraft will be incorporated into the demonstration to prove data direct from space to airborne platforms. 

The 46th TS began testing Link 16 in the early 2000s and is considered the center for excellence in Link 16 testing.  Currently, the squadron’s datalink flight conducts both strategic and tactical developmental testing of datalink networks to enable information sharing across the military.  This testing develops confidence for warfighters who need to share data in combat and provides the ability for them to fight as a single united team.

Link 16 has continued to evolve since its inception in the early 70s.  Expanding operations to space is necessary to ensure the Combatant Commands have the resources necessary to support operations. 

“These are exciting times as we continue to explore how we can best use space to enhance the resiliency of airborne networks” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Massett, 46th TS commander.