U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that the service has devoted funding in the last few months to rectify a delay in fielding Link 16 cryptographic modernization for aircraft radios.
“One of the things I’m really concerned about is the Air Force’s Link 16 crypto modernization effort is behind,” Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.) said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Apr. 27 on the Air Force’s fiscal 2023 budget request. “It’s impacting readiness and safety. I’m not happy about this delay.”
DoD was to upgrade its platforms with encryption to meet National Security Agency (NSA) standards by Jan. 1, 2022.
In response to Langevin’s query on what the Air Force could do to resolve the delay and when the Link 16 crypto modernization for Air Force radios would finish, Kendall on Apr. 27 said that he would have to discuss most of the plans in closed session because of classification levels.
But Kendall did say that he became aware of the delay several months ago “and took steps immediately to put the resources on it that were necessary to get us where we need to be.”
“As we’ve gone through the last 20 years of being focused on counterterrorism/counterinsurgency campaigns where there wasn’t a sophisticated threat to our data links, that’s been neglected quite frankly so we have to put resources against it,” Kendall said. “We’re replacing radios so we have to buy the radios so there is some lead time associated with that, but it’s a problem we’re well aware of. That isn’t the only concern we have with Link 16. We have some others that go beyond that that I don’t want to talk about and can’t talk about in an open forum. We really need to get to a next generation of capabilities as well. That work is getting started.”
Langevin replied that he was “concerned that the can has been kicked down the road a lot” and that he “hoped that this is the end of that, and we can actually get this done.”
Data Link Solutions (DLS)–a joint venture between Collins Aerospace [RTX] and BAE Systems–and Viasat Inc. [VSAT] have built the software-defined Multifunction Information Distribution System/Joint Tactical Radio System (MIDS/JTRS), which is to replace older radios with NSA certified encryption and which is to feature a modular design to replace older MIDS-Low Volume Terminals (MIDS-LVTs).
The Naval Air Systems Command’s MIDS program office (PMA-101), headed by Navy Capt. Shaun Swartz, and the Air Force’s Tactical Data Link Operations and Management Organization, headed by Gary “Gus” Doody, at Air Combat Command at Langley AFB, Va., did not respond to requests for elaboration on the Air Force Link 16 crypto delay.
Langevin’s office declined to discuss the delay in more detail, and Collins Aerospace and Viasat deferred any comment to program officials.
“MIDS LVT and MIDS JTRS are on 40 different platforms, with more than 50 countries participating,” Dominick Laccona, director of MIDS JTRS at BAE Systems, wrote in an Apr. 28 email. “DLS is nearing its 3,000th MIDS JTRS terminal delivery. Production on MIDS JTRS is at its highest level ever. These terminals are fielded and operational.”
“Design and development for the new and important crypto modernization mandate have been completed by DLS,” he wrote. “The new technology is being delivered with every terminal we produce.”
Two years ago, the MIDS program office reported that it had bought 4,823 MIDS-JTRS terminals, of which 2,319 had reached the field for a number of aircraft, including the F-15, the F-16, and the F-22.