Air Force asks industry for handheld Link-16 special operations networking radios

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio-U.S. Air Force special operations experts are surveying industry to find companies able to design and build a small handheld Link-16 secure, jam-resistant, high-speed digital data radio that is no larger than today's fielded AN/PRC-148 multiband inter/intra team radio (MBITR).

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) Battlefield Airmen Branch (WISN) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, issued a request for information (Form-Factor_Link-16_radio) last month for a very small form-factor Link-16 radio.

The Air Force is considering developing a Link 16 handheld radio no larger than the AN/PRC-148 multiband inter/intra team radio (MBITR), shown above.
The Air Force is considering developing a Link 16 handheld radio no larger than the AN/PRC-148 multiband inter/intra team radio (MBITR), shown above.

Link-16 is a NATO military tactical data exchange network that enables fighting forces to exchange their tactical pictures in near-real time, as well as send and receive text messages, imagery, and two channels of digital voice.

Link-16 radios typically are aboard aircraft, ships, and combat vehicles, but the Air Force wants to develop handheld Link-16 radios that are small enough for battlefield airmen to use while on foot.

Battlefield Airmen are the special operations force of the Air Force, and include combat controllers, para-rescuemen, tactical air control party members, and special operations weather technicians.

Battlefield Airmen are extensively trained and often operate far into hostile territory, and provide a key link between the air and ground. They perform surveillance, weather forecasting, airfield surveying, air traffic control, air strike direction, airdrop marking, trauma care, and personnel recovery.

These special operations forces need a way to communicate with other Link-16 aircraft, ships, and combat vehicles without the need to carry excess bulk into the field.

Link-16 is a TDMA-based secure, jam-resistant high-speed digital data link which operates in frequencies from 960 to 1,215 MHz, which limits its use to line of sight, by tactical Internet, or by satellite communications (SATCOM) links.

The Air Force wants a Link-16 radio no larger than the MBITR, the 152/152A; it even could be as small as the RT-1922 microlight SADL radio.

This requirement calls for a small, lightweight, ruggedized tactical data link terminal to be worn by a battlefield airman for sending and receiving Link-16 messages and J voice communications while on foot or in a vehicle.

The radio should provide reliable, secure, Link-16 network connectivity and J-voice, as well as be NSA certified. The terminal should be ergonomically and functionally similar to the MBITR or AN/PRC-152 handheld radios, and use a 5.8-hour, lithium-ion battery and single-bay or six-bay charger.

The transceiver must connect to a computer or similar handheld device through an Ethernet connection and/or USB 2.0 connectors. The radio also should have a 6-pin multifunction connector, and be able to survive immersion in water as deep as six feet.

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