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The Link 16 communications system enables network-centric operations (NCO) in ways that voice-only communications cannot. How does Link 16 increase the mission effectiveness of U.S. air forces in combat translate into success in the air-to-air battle? More than 12,000 sorties were flown in the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System Operational Special Project, where Link 16 and voice-only communications systems were evaluated. Using a series of NCO performance metrics, the authors measured results and determined which areas were improved by the use of Link 16 and by how much compared to the voice-only system. They employed the NCO Conceptual Framework to assess the results of the project and found the framework’s inference chains consistent with the observations of experienced pilots. The almost threefold increase in force effectiveness with the Link 16 shows the merits of the system and NCO concepts. The authors conclude that further case studies should be conducted to examine more complex mission areas and provide further understanding of NCO concepts.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of Force Transformation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center supported by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the unified commands.

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