3SDL has been at the heart of Network Management and TDL development and sustainment for over a decade. Underestimation of the complexities of an integrated Link 16 system by capability sponsors and acquisition organisations has always been a concern to us. Those concerns are magnified by the approaching Link 16 modernisation ‘cliff-edge’ and the resultant forced migration to new terminals.
Wholesale change will be required by all Link 16 users to address frequency allocations, data volumes and, most importantly, crypto modernisation. We’ve previously provided assessments of the technical challenges associated with each and those remain available as useful reminders – particularly for those responsible for system and network design, data preparation and processing and mission planning. The good news is that there is still time; the modernisation cliff-edge seems to be further away than originally thought.
That being said, any breathing space must not be wasted if users are to minimise the risks to operational capability and take full advantage of the opportunities that modernisation will bring. We urge the Link 16 community to start the work now. The hidden cost of not doing so could be a loss of mission critical capability. This requires integrated change programmes that consider everything from concepts to procurement strategies and system design to test and evaluation. And, of course, we must not overlook the impact that the incremental transition will have on ‘mixed-fleet’ operational and safety risk management – where the integrity and interoperability of Link 16 may be compromised by operating both legacy and modernised systems in the same battlespace.
Seizing the opportunities will require a coherent change programme approach, and this should include future-proofing.
At 3SDL, we also believe that changes to the operating environment of 2025 will impact on the way we think about and use TDLs – so we should perhaps add future proofing to the challenges of ‘modernisation’?
The implications and implementation of an upgraded Link 16 architecture do present an opportunity to examine the more fundamental factors and constraints that will influence future requirements.
Some of the questions that we feel will need to be addressed are:
As TDLs evolve, now is the time to review the fundamental operating tenets.
The industrial politics of TDLs has always surprised the newcomers in its ability to drive investment and delay capability. For example, the UK’s implementation of a joint, integrated Link 16 solution could be seen as being 30 years late, and still counting? At 3SDL, we feel the moment is fast-approaching where the requirements of Link 16 modernisation force us to think more deeply - beyond a terminal replacement programme and also across the fundamental tenets of the future operating and acquisition environments that TDLs will need to evolve in. It’s been a good news story for Link 16 so far. But how will we ensure that the success of TDLs is sustained?
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