WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are calling on a federal watchdog to evaluate U.S. Air Force attempts to enhance the Link 16 communications system, after a leading lawmaker said delays may jeopardize military readiness and safety.

In National Defense Authorization Act language published June 7, the House Armed Services cyber and innovative technologies subcommittee directed the Government Accountability Office to review the status of the cryptographic upgrade, identify challenges it still faces and find ways schedules can be accelerated. Link 16 is jam-resistant data link used by the Air Force, NATO and others that enables an exchange of information and the crafting of a common picture.

Lawmakers want a briefing on preliminary findings by March 31. A full report would be expected later.

Rep. Jim Langevin, the chairman of the cyber panel, told Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall at an April budget hearing that he was “not happy about this delay” tied to Link 16. He did not say what the original deadline was.

“I’m concerned that the can’s been kicked down the road a lot,” the Rhode Island Democrat said. “And I hope that’s the end of that, and we’re actually going to get this done.”

In response, Kendall said he and his team “became aware” of issues “a few months ago” and immediately took steps to address them.

“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,” the secretary said April 27.

Radios need to be bought and replaced in order to support the modernization, which takes time, he added.

While additional concerns about Link 16 exist, Kendall would not discuss them publicly, deferring to closed-door discussions with lawmakers.

House Armed Services subcommittees this week are working through their respective contributions to this year’s NDAA. A full committee markup is scheduled for June 22.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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