AFMC Command News

Eglin cyber unit helps demonstrate communication system in space

  • Published

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Space Development Agency successfully demonstrated the first-ever Link 16 network entry through space to ground connection from low earth orbit to a series of receivers using terrestrial radios during three demonstrations held Nov. 21-27, 2023.

Operators working with SDA conducted both passive and active network entry, obtained fine synchronization, and transmitted multiple tactical messages from satellites using L-band radios aboard Tranche 0 transport layer satellites to a ground test site located within the territory of a Five Eyes partner nation.

Link 16 is a tactical datalink communication system used by the United States, NATO, and coalition forces to transmit and exchange real-time situational awareness data among all network participants.

For the initial Link 16 demonstration, SDA used three T0 transport layer satellites.  The 96th Test Wing’s 46th Test Squadron, headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, served as the lead developmental test organization for ground operations. The demonstration leveraged prior fixed-site risk reduction testing at the 46th TS’s Datalinks Test Lab and with York Space Systems.

This success represents a major milestone for T0 of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture and demonstration of a significant new capability for the warfighter. This accomplishment also reflects a leap ahead in the Department of Defense-wide Joint All Domain Command and Control effort, connecting available sensors to available warfighting platforms globally.

“I can’t underscore enough the significance of this technical achievement as we demonstrate the feasibility of the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture and its ability to deliver space-based capabilities to the warfighter over existing tactical data links,” said SDA’s director, Derek Tournear. “This is not only the first time Link 16 has been broadcast from space, but the beginning of turning the world’s finest warfighting force into a truly connected beyond line-of-sight joint force.”

While the U.S. military and allied partners used Link 16 aboard aircraft for years, a fully operational PWSA requires the ability to establish bi-directional communication from space to ground. Testing Link 16 from space, first with an international partner and then over international water, represents a compromise position.  SDA’s requirement remains to test over U.S. air space to demonstrate the feasibility of the PWSA and its ability to deliver fire control information to the warfighter over existing tactical data networks.

SDA launched the first 10 satellites in April 2023 and the next 13 in September 2023. A third launch carrying the final T0 space vehicles is scheduled for the near future. Once completed, the Tranche 0 constellation will consist of 28 satellites – 19 Transport and eight tracking satellites, plus one ground-based testbed satellite – forming a resilient constellation in LEO.