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NATO tests Link-16 in support of F-16 Mid-Life Update

September 12, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Edwards F-16 Mid-Life Update (MLU) test program recently had the unique opportunity to utilize two NATO aircraft during a weeklong evaluation of its improved datalink system, the Link-16.

A NATO Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft flies with three F-16s during a test mission. The AWACS conducted airborne interoperability testing on the Link-16, part of the F-16 Mid-Life Upgrade test program. [USAF photo by Tom Reynolds]

Arriving from Geilenkirchen, Germany, the two Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft touched down in Edwards on Aug. 15, and prepared to conduct airborne interoperability testing - a vital Link-16 test objective.

The Link-16 is a tactical datalink integrated into the F-16, providing an updated communications capability. This enhanced system allows aircraft to talk to each other and communicate with those on the ground. Basically, it provides increased situational awareness for the pilot.

Because the AWACS performs the C-2 mission, it is critical for fighter aircraft to have the ability to communicate with such platforms.

Not only was the collected data beneficial for the MLU program, added Quistorf, but it was also valuable to the AWACS evaluation of their own Link-16 capability and instrumentation - an effort for improved interoperability joint and service wide.

The Link-16 is one of five avionics and weapons upgrades being tested as part of the overall MLU program, a $9.8 million test effort scheduled to be completed in 2004.

Five countries are currently involved in the Mid-Life Update, with two of the F-16 project pilots from the Netherlands and Belgium Air Forces - Maj. Terts Van Den Berg and Maj. Geert De Decker.

The recent Link-16 test involved 43 NATO crewmembers, representing 19 NATO countries.

The weeklong test easily involved more than 200 people, said Quistorf, and was completed Aug. 24 with the departure of the NATO AWACS.

Fielding of the Link-16 is projected for the very near term.