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Link 16: keeping aircraft connected

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rebecca Van Syoc
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Beginning March 2013, Dyess Air Force Base B-1B Lancers began undergoing upgrades to Sustainment-Block 16, or SB-16. The upgrade, finished in 2016, included significant upgrades to the B-1 such as the navigation, radar and diagnostic systems. It also included an upgrade to the communication systems, called Link 16.

“Simply put, Link 16 supports the information exchange between command and control platforms and, for lack of a better term, warfighting platforms, in order to assist in meeting the commander’s intent in a combat zone,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Ryan Woodcraft, Joint Interoperability Division instructor.

As part of the SB-16 upgrade, Link 16 is a communication system designed to aid aircrew across multiple aircraft platforms.

“Link 16 was originally developed in the 1970’s and has been growing and evolving ever since,” Woodcraft said. “Some platforms in the Air Force inventory have been using it for some time already, but now the bomber community is beginning to learn how to utilize Link 16 in weapon systems such as the B-1B Lancer and B-52H Stratofortress.”

In order to ensure maximum knowledge and understanding of Link 16 and its capabilities after the completion of upgrade to SB-16, Air Force Global Strike Command requested and organized the help of Joint Staff instructors from the Joint Interoperability Division for aircrew and civilian contractors working on the affected platforms.

“We’re at Dyess Air Force Base to educate the bomber community in the facilitation of this type of technology,” Woodcraft said. “While it doesn’t necessarily change how they fly the aircraft or how they employ weapons, being able to understand how to connect digitally with other aircraft and command and control agencies will help increase their effectiveness on the battlefield.”

The class at Dyess took place on Sept. 18-22 and was called ‘Link 16 Unit Manager’. It contained a total of 22 students from Dyess, Minot and Barksdale Air Force Base who collectively worked on or with the B-1, B-52 and even one student with the KC-46 Pegasus. Together, they all had a chance to learn about the capabilities and use of Link 16 within their specific platform.


“This is just adding to the lethality of the B-52 and bringing it up to speed with the current needs of the Air Force,” said 1st Lt. Thomas Urbanek, 23rd Bomb Squadron navigator. “We’re not leaving anytime soon; we’re in for the long haul. This is leadership helping us learn about these updates to bring the B-52 all the way to the end.”

For some students, the collective of other platforms also afforded them a chance to learn and understand the capabilities of aircraft from other bases and how Link 16 affected them.

“Every platform has its own unique needs and skillset, so some students asked questions regarding how to use Link 16 in the aircraft they work with,” said Capt. Anh-Vu Nguyen, 7th Operation Support Squadron mission planning support flight commander. “We also have the opportunity at the end of the course to brief the class about how we utilized Link 16 in our primary aircraft, the B-1 in my case. We not only learn about Link 16 as a whole, but also how each aircraft fits into the big picture.”

Woodcraft will return to Fort Bragg, N.C. and continue to teach classes on various communication systems within the joint-services environment.

“We don’t fight as a single service, we fight as a team,” said Woodcraft. “Link 16 helps various platforms communicate digitally regardless of service in order to enhance their lethality and survivability, and it will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our forces both stateside and overseas.”