Link 16 is an encrypted, jam-resistant Tactical Data Link (TDL) network used by U.S. and NATO Allies to create situational awareness among dispersed battle elements by sharing information over a common communication link.
Link 16 enables the command and control centers to create Common Operating Pictures (COP), which allows friendly forces to electronically observe the battlespace, identify threats, and acquire targets.
A major application of Link 16 is as an air and missile defense command and control system. This network is now used by various countries for national air defense, linking their sea- and land-based vessels, ground-based sensors, and surface-to-air missile systems. This helps the U.S. and other countries protect their airspace by identifying threats and neutralizing them.
Another crucial aspect of Link 16 is its anti-jamming technology that prevents the enemy from eavesdropping. In the Link 16 TDL this is accomplished through “frequency hopping,” a method used to rapidly switch transmitting radio signals among several frequency channels.
Frequency hopping is a radio transmission technique also known as spread-spectrum technique, which refers to any method that widens the frequency band of a signal. Normally, radio stations broadcast on a single carrier frequency, which makes eavesdropping deliberately easy: You tune your radio to the correct frequency and receive the programming.
By contrast, frequency hopping prevents the interception and decipherment of a transmission by shifting the carrier frequency in a predetermined, usually pseudorandom manner — in other words, in a way that appears random but is produced by a deterministic algorithm.
The basic idea underpinning all frequency hopping radios is that the frequency or wavelength of the radio carrier wave continuously hops around over time. Typically, a pseudo-random coding scheme is used to determine the next frequency to which the carrier wave should hop. Unless a receiver knows where the next hop will be, it cannot capture the signal and decode it.
A hostile intercept receiver sees a carrier wave popping up and disappearing continuously over time, within some range of frequencies unique to the radio design.
A receiver hopping around in synchrony with the transmitter can pick up the message, but an eavesdropper tuned to a single frequency will hear only a blip as that bit of message flashes by. If the frequencies are spaced widely enough, any jamming signal will interfere with only a small part of the message.
Want to know more about Link 16? Tonex offers Advanced Link 16 Training, a 3-day course that covers advanced Link 16 concepts, Link 16 network architecture, Link 16 planning, Link 16 security, Link 16 Cybersecurity Link 16 operation and Link 16 management.
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