by Allan Ng
Canadian Defence Procurement – December 2003
The CF18 Incremental Modernization Program – In Detail
Follow-Ons to the Engineering Change Proposal 583 – Link 16 
Allan Ng reviews DND's CF18 fighter aircraft
modernization plan (Part 6)
Link 16 is an inter-service data link system serving very large numbers of users on one single
network. The Link 16 system provides each user with secure communications, navigation, identification,
and data exchange. A Link 16 net is frequency-hopping and jam- resistant. Maximum range between
participants in the system is 550-to-900km. All that is necessary for a new user to join the network, is
to have a Link 16-compatible terminal. As each new user joins the network, their on-board
sensor data contributes to the stream of information available to all of the users on the Link 16
system. This represents a major advance in the situational
awareness of fighter pilots.
An Eye in the Sky — the Link 16 Data Link
Before the Link 16 system, fighter pilots were limited in their ability to detect an adversary. They
relied upon their own on-board sensors or help from ground or airborne controllers – usually relayed by
voice. Now the sensors of all of the Link 16-equipped fighters, AWACS aircraft, and ground-based radar
are fused together in a single integrated display.
Each Link 16 user will have an unparalleled awareness of their environment. And, this will include other
aircraft in a formation. Link 16 will allow CF18 flight-leaders to know instantly the location,
altitude, speed, and weapon or fuel status of wing- mates. At the same time, the positions of aircraft known to
the system – neutral, enemy, or unknown – as well as their altitudes and
velocities can be displayed.
Tactically, a Link 16 system – depending on where contributing network users are
positioned – allows the pilots to be aware of what is happening in 360°s of airspace
around them. This capability goes a long way towards eliminating a key tactical disadvantage of forward-facing
fighter radar. The Link 16 system may very well revolutionize air-to-air combat tactics.
The integration of Link 16 has been slow – even in the US where the system was developed. But, the
pace of integration has sped up dramatically since September 11 2001 since Link 16 is seen as the
potential solution to the problems of locating the fleeting, highly-mobile targets anticipated in the "War
on Terrorism". NATO has since standardized on the Link 16 system. Its integration into the
modernized CF18 will, therefore, be essential to maintain interoperability with Canada's allies.