Global Tactical Data Link Market: Why Link 16 makes the Cut

Tactical Datalink Market_Inkwood Research

Today, military operations increasingly depend on the seamless working of networked sensors and shooters. This has raised the need for sharing critical information in real time. In this regard, tactical data links (TDLs) disseminate information processed from electronic warfare, SONAR, RADAR, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), etc. Command, control, and communications (C3) rely on TDLs to securely share mission-critical information among ground, sea, and air platforms. As per Inkwood Research, the global tactical data link market is expected to record a CAGR of 6.08% during the forecast period, 2023-2032.

Link 16 weighs Heavy on TDL Arsenal

Each tactical data link (TDL) uses a data link standard to enable communication via data cables or radio waves. Link 16 is the designation of a tactical data link (TDL) integrated into operations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, Joint Services, and other allies. It deploys the multifunctional information distribution system (MIDS) data link terminals. It is a high-capacity, jam-resistant, and frequency-hopping data link.

Link 16 is considered a key component in the US Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) approach to networked warfare. Prior to Link 16, several platforms used their own proprietary data links. However, one of Link 16’s end goals was to provide a common data link that every service could use.

However, Link 16 does not substantially change the basic concepts of tactical data link information exchange supported for many years by Link 11B, Link 11, and Link 4A. Instead, it improves the tactical deployment of all equipped platforms and provides specific operational and technical enhancements to existing tactical data links.

These include:

  • Better Security
  • Increased Data Rate
  • Relative Navigation
  • Jam Resistance
  • Digitized, Secure, and Jam-Resistant Voice Capability
  • Nodelessness
  • More Granularity and Volume of Information Exchange
  • Precise Participant Location and Identification (PPLI)

In essence, Link 16 enables military ground forces, ships, and aircraft to exchange their tactical picture in near-real time. Its effects on air defense operations were revolutionary. For instance, before Link 16, the typical command & control (C2) for air defense comprised a command center coursing in aircraft to coordinates provided by ground-based radar. With Link 16, the incoming threat information was distributed across communication networks to the units capable of countering it. While sensor and radar tracks could be shared among aircraft within that unit.

Explains Pete Camana, Viasat’s business development director of Tactical Data Links, “You get a common operational picture that everyone sees, and that makes a real difference.

Camana further describes how Link 16 changed the face of air and ground coordination for close air support. Conventionally ground controllers used voice to guide attack aircraft. The pilot had to read back the sequence of commands the ground controller gave to verify congruency. Link 16 changed this since it facilitates sharing information directly from the user device to the aircraft’s computer.

For instance, in an NCO Case Study: Air-to-Air Combat With and Without Link 16 (Courtesy: RAND Corporation), Link 16-equipped fighters witnessed around a two-and-a-half times improvement in the kill ratio during daylight and night time conditions. The ratio encompassed red aircraft to blue aircraft shot down.

Our analysis of the global tactical data link market by data link type includes Link 16, Link 22, and Link 11.

Call for More: Expansions, Extensions, and Integrations in Link 16

With Link 16 on more tactical platforms, the services are working toward expanding its capabilities to improve situational awareness, enhance warfighter safety, adapt to new technologies, and adjust to new mission needs. All these while limiting the potential for errors and the need for data translation. This calls for an evolved network design with built-in Information Exchange Requirements (IERs) to aid warfighters.

Similarly, the US military is inclined to extend Link 16 capacities to maintain the tactical advantage. One such solution is Concurrent Multiple Reception (CMR), wherein a radio can decrypt and demodulate multiple messages from multiple users simultaneously.

As the vice president and business area director for Viasat’s Next Generation Tactical Data Links (NGTDL) systems, Andy Kessler, puts it, “Imagine that instead of a single FM or satellite radio station, your car radio could pick up three or four stations simultaneously.”

For instance, Concurrent Multiple Reception (CMR) facilitates more secure, frequent updates on the location of the surrounding forces (both friendly and hostile) with positional data. The data obtained from multiple simultaneous messages are then fused into a common picture.

Kessler adds, “This picture that you are seeing on your tactical situational awareness display is more robust. The tracks are getting updated more frequently due to reduced latency so the locations are more precise.

Moreover, multi-message capability enables Concurrent Multiple Reception (CMR) devices to share data between particular users while receiving information from the broader network in a single timeslot. This is estimated to raise the total network efficiency and capacity because multiple networks can function in the same theater of operation.

Our assessment of the global data link market by application includes electronic warfare, command & control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), radio communication, and situational awareness.

Successful Leverages by Market Players

  • On 10th April 2019, Viasat announced the implementation of Concurrent Multiple Reception (CMR) features in the latest version of the KOR-24A Small Tactical Terminal (STT).
  • On 23rd April 2019, Viasat announced the surpassing of a milestone of shipping 1,000 AN/PRC-161 Battlefield Awareness Targeting System Dismounted (BATS-D) handheld Link 16 radios.
  • On 8th February 2022, HENSOLDT announced the development of an independent next-generation tactical data link with extended Link 16 functionalities (secured data & voice communication) under a European project called ‘ESSOR MIDS.’

Future Warfare: Toward Electronic, Interoperable, and Near-Instant Operations

The air-to-ground operations are being viewed in a new light with technological innovations in the next generation of Link 16 terminals. The new capabilities of the next-generation Link 16 terminals and the extension of Link 16 in new domains facilitate its availability for integration into new nodes and platform types. Link 16’s malleability to meet the changing operational battlefield needs has maintained its viability over the last 40 years. (Source)

However, the widespread deployment of Link 16 requires efficient functioning of software tools, Information Exchange Requirements (IERs), support equipment, comprehensive training, and the Concept of Operations (CONOPs). Therefore, the global tactical data link market addresses the worldwide quest for precise & real-time information amid the evolving modern warfare techniques.

By Akhil Nair


Which are the key players in the global tactical data link market?

Raytheon, L3Harris Technologies Inc, Collins Aerospace, Viasat, etc., are among the key players in the global tactical data link market.

Which is the dominating region in the global tactical data link market?

North America is the dominating region in the global tactical data link market.