What is Link 16?

Viasat’s Government Systems division provides U.S. and coalition military forces with a range of advanced communications technology. Here’s a quick description of one of them: Link 16


Link 16 is a military tactical data link network designed to provide warfighters operating on land, in the air and at sea with secure, anti-jam Line-of-Sight (LoS) communications.

First introduced in the 1970s to support air interdiction missions during the Cold War, Link 16 allows U.S. and coalition forces operating at the tactical edge to communicate securely by voice and share mission-critical data in real time across the battlespace.

Link 16 tactical data links are integrated on board aircraft, ground vehicles, surface vessels, operational centers and bases. Link 16 can now also be employed by dismounted ground warfighters.

Networking together air, ground and maritime nodes into a Common Operating Picture (COP), Link 16 tactical data links provide warfighters with enhanced command and control and 360-degree situational awareness of the battlespace. Warfighters also benefit from the “Network Effect” — the greater the number of participants in the network, the greater the value of information exchanges across the area of operation.

This allows aircrews, operators, vessel commanders as well as dismounted ground warfighters to observe the COP; understand the locations of friends, foes, and unknowns; share points of interest; and generally optimize decision-making processes to ensure mission success across benign as well as electromagnetically stressed environments.


A look at how various Viasat technologies connect Link 16 in the battlespace.

Link 16 networks can be accessed through a range of end-user terminals and radios, which can either be handheld or integrated onboard aircraft, ground vehicles and surface vessels. Solutions include Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) terminals; the AN/PRC-161 Battlefield Awareness and Targeting System-Dismounted (BATS-D) radio; and the KOR-24A Small Tactical Terminal (STT).

Viasat continues to upgrade Link 16 as a next-generation tactical data link network — with particular interest in drawing upon developments from across the commercial sector. Some of the most recent improvements include the introduction of Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) receiver designs in addition to the world’s first Link 16-capable Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite. The XVI satellite is due to begin testing with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in the final half of 2021 to extend Link 16 coverage to Beyond LoS operations.

Alex Miller is the director of editorial at Viasat.