With Link 16, military aircraft as well as ships and ground forces may exchange their tactical picture in near-real time. Link 16 also supports the exchange of text messages, imagery data and provides two channels of digital voice (2.4 kbit/s and/or 16 kbit/s in any combination). Link 16 is defined as one of the digital services of the JTIDS / MIDS in NATO's Standardization Agreement STANAG 5516. MIL-STD-6016 is the related United States Department of Defense Link 16 MIL-STD.
Link 16 is a TDMA-based secure, jam-resistant high-speed digital data link which operates in the radio frequency band 960–1,215 MHz, allocated in line with the ITU Radio Regulations to the aeronautical radionavigation service and to the radionavigation satellite service. This frequency range limits the exchange of information to users within line-of-sight of one another, although with satellite capabilities and adhoc protocols, it is nowadays possible to pass Link 16 data over long-haul protocols such as TCP/IP using MIL-STD 3011 (JREAP) or STANAG 5602 (SIMPLE). It uses the transmission characteristics and protocols, conventions, and fixed-length or variable length message formats defined by MIL-STD 6016, STANAG 5516 (formerly the JTIDS technical interface design plan). Information is typically passed at one of three data rates: 31.6, 57.6, or 115.2 kilobits per second, although the radios and waveform itself can support throughput values upwards of 238 kbit/s.
Link 16 information is primarily coded in J.-series messages which are binary data words with well-defined meanings. These data words are grouped in functional areas, and allocated to network participation groups (NPG) (virtual networks), most importantly:
- PPLI, or Precise Participant Location and Identification (network participation groups 5 and 6),
- Surveillance (network participation group 7),
- Command (Mission Management/Weapons Coordination) (network participation group 8),
- (Aircraft) Control (network participation group 9),
- Electronic Warfare & Coordination (network participation group 10).
Some examples of platforms currently using the Link 16 capability are:
- P-3C Orion
- F/A-18 Hornet
- F-15 Eagle
- F-16 Fighting Falcon
- F-18 Super Hornet
- Eurofighter Typhoon
- Dassault Rafale
- Dassault Mirage 2000D
- Dassault Mirage 2000
- Saab Gripen
- Panavia Tornado
- E-2C Hawkeye
- E-3 Sentry
- MH-60S/R NavalHawk family helicopters
- E-8 Joint STARS
- EA-6B Prowler
- EA-18G Growler
- EP-3C Aries
- Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint
- Saab 340 AEW&C
- ATR 72MP
- Greek Embraer R-99A Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft
- Ground vehicles
- VESTA (Verifiëren, Evalueren, Simuleren, Trainen en Analyseren); a minivan with radiotower used for training purposes 
- Missile defense systems
- Networked Weapons
- Command and Control
The U.S. Army is also integrating Link 16 into select command and control elements of its UH-60 Black Hawk fleet, and intends to pursue future fielding to AH-64 Apache and other aviation assets.
The USAF will add Link 16 to its B-1 and B-52 bombers with the Common Link Integration Processing system. A key exception is the F-22 Raptor which can only receive but not transmit Link-16 data. According to the Air Force, transmitting data would give away its location.
Link 16 is intended to advance Tactical Data Links (TDLs) as the NATO standard for data link information exchange. Link 16 equipment is located in ground, airborne, and sea-based air defense platforms and selected fighter aircraft. The U.S. industry is now developing a new Link 16 SCA compliant radio MIDS-JTRS which currently is projected to implement nine various tactical waveforms, including Link 16.
The MIDS program, which manage the development of the communication component for Link 16, is managed by the International Program Office located in San Diego, California. In the United States, the lead Air Force command for the MIL-STD-6016 standard, plans, and requirements is the Air Force Global Cyberspace Integration Center at Langley AFB, with JTIDS program execution managed by the 653d Electronic Systems Wing at Hanscom AFB near Boston, Massachusetts. The MIL-STD-6016 Standard configuration management custodian is the Defense Information Systems Agency.
- Tactical Data Link The family of tactical data links
- Air Force Command and Control Integration Center lead Air Force command for MIL-STD-6016 standard and plans/programs
- 653d Electronic Systems Wing JTIDS program execution
- JREAP Joint Range Extension Applications Protocol
- STANAG 5602 The Standard Interface for Military Platform Link Evaluation (SIMPLE)
- Lockheed Martin Team Delivers Joint Tactical Radio to the U.S. Government for Integration into First Aircraft Platform Lockheed martin press release July 14th, 2011 defense systems, 15 July 2011
- Northrop Grumman Awarded Air Force Contract to Integrate CLIP on B-1B and B-52 Aircraft Northrop Grumman press release, 21 October 2010