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Linking Capabilities for Mission Success

Communication Systems
Jun 18, 2024 | 5 MINUTE Read

Officially acquired at the beginning of 2023, L3Harris Technologies’ new Tactical Data Links (TDL) business has been successfully integrated into the company’s Communication Systems segment ahead of schedule.

In addition to a flurry of integration activities throughout the year, the TDL business also received the largest Multifunction Information Distribution System (MIDS) Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) production order ever – worth more than $150 million – and demonstrated Link 16 capabilities from space.

The integration of TDL technology, operations and supply chain further establishes L3Harris as the industry leader for resilient networks and communications, said Lauren Barnes, president of L3Harris’ Broadband Communications business. Barnes foresees the Link 16 portfolio continuing to boost resilient network capabilities for customers across the world.

“The warfighters have benefited tremendously as a result of this integration,” said Barnes, “and proven communications capabilities are strengthened.”

The Proven ‘Link of the War’


There are numerous data links available to modern warfighters, but only one is known as “the link of the war” from its use in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In fact, before the end of the two conflicts, the effective interoperability and enhanced situational awareness provided by Link 16 led combatant commanders to require the data link for all major tactical platforms entering those areas of operation.

Tactical Data Links has a proven legacy, producing the MIDS terminal version of Link 16 for the last two decades. It has delivered almost 8,000 units over 20 years with incremental improvements, including cryptography modernization, processing enhancements and software upgrades.

Embracing the Power of the Enterprise

L3Harris at large has provided a myriad of mission-enabling technologies for decades and can now complement these with the TDL product line to deliver more-robust communication system packages to its customers around the world.

Over the decades, warfighters around the globe have counted on the tactical data links, line-of-sight and other wireless communications the company provides for numerous 
air-to-ground, air-to-air and manned-unmanned interoperability capabilities. Now, L3Harris can incorporate Link 16 capabilities as an inherent technology in its portfolio for current and future customer needs.

With more than 25 years of legacy experience in data link development and deployment, we anticipate the challenges that lie ahead and design innovative technologies to ensure connectivity that significantly enhances mission success. Our TDL business has already delivered a number of industry firsts, including the first and only handheld Link 16 radio and the world’s first Link 16-capable low-Earth orbit spacecraft.
Lauren Barnes
President, Broadband Communications Systems

Linking the Tactical Edge

In the past, Link 16 networks could only leverage the data link up to a certain point in the mission, according to Pete Camana, L3Harris Systems Engineering director. For example, the final phases of a mission were typically conducted with Joint Tactical Air Controllers through voice communications outside the Link 16 network. This can induce both errors and the increased risk of fratricide, warns Camana.

“We have in our current inventory all the tools and equipment militaries need today to push Link 16 out to the tactical edge,” said Camana. “Instead of doing all that work on Link 16 for the majority of the mission and then going to voice comms or some other non-assured nets, we’re making sure that we keep this fight within Link 16, reducing the risk of error.”

L3Harris TDL: Linking Capabilities for Mission Success - Soldiers

By moving more personnel and platforms into the Link 16 environment, military users have real-time access to shared mission-critical information in a precise, standardized way, added Jamie King, L3Harris Systems Engineering lead. Commanders have 360-degree, real-time multi-domain situational awareness that works in GPS-denied environments to provide the precise location of Link 16 terminals.

Link 16 is the fundamental element to the “pointy end of the spear” and included in all JADC2 communications requirements, said King. The data link is used and trusted for situational awareness and command and control on more than 20,000 U.S. and allied platforms.

“It forms a secure and resilient backbone upon which the United States can build JADC2 high-capacity networks and extend it to our partners,” said King. “With Link 16, users are interoperable with the platforms that carry it. The military can grow JADC2 from there by adding waveforms and other methods on top of this trusted and assured means of communication.”

L3Harris TDL: Linking Capabilities for Mission Success - laptop

Hopping Ahead of the Threat

“Link 16 is a jam-resistant and agile waveform, able to hop more than 77,000 times per second, giving the warfighter resilient and interoperable communications,” said Barnes, noting the L3Harris Link 16 solutions are all compatible with recent U.S. government-derived cryptography modernization standards. “We deliver software-defined radios using open systems approaches to provide the flexibility to extend applicable mission sets with easy, on-the-fly swaps.”

Further, Link 16’s extensive message catalog facilitates most data sets that operators need to transmit, added Camana. This, plus the multi-platform and -nation interoperability the data link provides, is a massive upgrade compared to legacy solutions.

While a low-data-rate link, Link 16 solutions pair easily with a number of L3Harris links, including the ROVER® transceiver, which adds streaming video to operational collaboration. L3Harris also provides whole-life support, including training, integration, field, hardware and software support and in-country maintenance.

While Link 16 delivers many mission-enabling capabilities in optimal conditions, even in the worst case it can provide blue-force tracking to build situational awareness for command and control and target sorting, according to Barnes.

“We’re able to interoperate with any country that’s a member of our coalition partners – they have the same assurance that the data is going to get through and that it’s valid information.”
Jamie King
L3Harris Systems Engineering lead

Links in Space

The U.S. Space Defense Agency is currently underway extending the Link 16 network worldwide, every hour every day, so that ground, air and sea personnel can access any other Link 16 equipped platform anywhere in the world and also connect to the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), according to Camana.

The Space Development Agency has a multiphase program developing the Transport Layer of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA). The Transport Layer in space will connect warfighters via their existing Link 16 terminals, thus extending everyone’s Link 16 from a line-of-sight communications system to beyond line of sight.

Tranche 0 of the program launched three L3Harris Link 16 terminals into Low Earth Orbit and has proven that Link 16 can connect from LEO to terrestrial Link 16 users.

“By 2027, approximately 200 additional satellites are expected to be in orbit for full 24/7 operational capability,” added Camana.

L3Harris TDL: Linking Capabilities for Mission Success - satellite

Use of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.