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Link 16 Certification: Streamlining RF Systems for Interference-Free Operations

Standardization secures radio device interoperability, with NAVWAR leading zero-interference military operations certification.

Link 16, a radio frequency (RF) secure system standardization process, ensures that spectrum use is compatible among devices. RF vendors can supply equipment that could potentially interfere with civilian or other military devices, to avoid it, new products must get through this procedure.

“We have a standard that the program offices build their systems to, there has never been a single reported incident of interference,” said Rob Wolborsky, Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR) chief engineer.

After thousands of hours of operations of different RF devices, including communications and navigation, in the proximity aircraft carriers demand that there have been no interferences.

When the Navy purchases a new RF device it goes through a certification process, after specific program offices decide.

To certify the new system, NAVWAR employs the value stream mapping (VSM) method, a manufacturing technique to analyze, design and manage the flow of materials and information required to bring a product to a customer.

“We identified numerous pain points and challenges, and from those pain points, we did a deep dive into each of them and then we came up with an action plan,” said Lucia Jo, NAVWAR Link 16 electromagnetic compatibility features lead. Implementation was centered around transparency, according to Jo, and as requirements were standardized, “we developed a common resolution matrix to handle requirement traceability.”

With strict requirements but also a need to adopt new technologies fast, those creating tomorrow’s capabilities must make sure that their RF demands do not collide with what the Navy already has.

“When we do the collaboration session, it's not a bunch of business development people sitting in the room, it's the program office engineers so there's a there's a common language to maintain or improve technical rigor while cutting down the inefficiencies,” said Robert Leopold, NAVWAR’s chief systems engineer for installations

This has shortened lead times and fostered higher quality standards for new purchases.

Rob Wolborsky, Chief engineer, NAVWAR
There has never been a single reported incident of interference.
Rob Wolborsky
Chief Engineer, Naval Information Warfare Systems Command

And this methodology applies to all those who operate in the United States, including allies.

“If they are going to come here and train or take part in demos, exercises, Joint Force coalition exercises, national airspace or any of our territories, then they have to abide by the certification requirements,” said Nicholas Sinnokrak, NAVWAR’s Joint Tactical Radio System principal assistant program manager.

Something that should be clarified is that other challenges may exist, beyond the use of the RF spectrum.

“Certification doesn't equal compatibility, certification means that you are operating within the spectrum on a not-to interfere basis specification,” Leopold explained.

RF use is governed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Link 16 helps those who already have spectrum to achieve standards that will allow those devices to operate in concert with others during military operations, or where civilian activities demand safety.