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Enhancing Battlefield Connectivity: How MANET Radios Empower Military Tactical Networks

Introduction:

In the ever-evolving landscape of military operations, maintaining effective and reliable communication on the battlefield is of utmost importance. Seamless connectivity among troops, vehicles, and command centers is essential for successful coordination, situational awareness, and timely decision-making. Additionally, the rise of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their ability to operate in coordinated swarms has introduced new challenges and opportunities in battlefield connectivity. This article explores how Mobile Ad-Hoc Network (MANET) radios enhance battlefield connectivity, empowering military tactical networks and enabling the full potential of UAV swarms.

 

Improving Network-centric Culture and Battlefield Connectivity with MANET Radios

The vision of a network-centric culture, organizational structure, and doctrine is based on leveraging information technology to interconnect all the tactical warfighting nodes, including sensors, soldiers, vehicles, and aircraft, alongside the C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) centers. The ultimate goal is to achieve shared situational awareness, information superiority, and enable agile employment of a lighter, leaner, and more lethal combat enterprise that can overwhelm potential adversaries before they have a chance to respond.

To fulfill this vision, the wireless communications network for tomorrow’s warfighter must overcome several challenges. It needs to provide high capacity to support an increasing number of diverse traffic flows. It should be instantly deployable with minimal manual configuration, including spectrum assignment. The network must also be highly tolerant of mobility, disruption, and disconnection. Additionally, it should be based on affordable hardware to ensure cost-effectiveness.

Enter Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks (MANETs), which serve as infrastructure-less wireless networks consisting of autonomous mobile nodes such as smartphones, laptops, iPads, PDAs, and more. These nodes operate in a distributed manner, collaborating with each other to provide essential network functions. In a MANET, each node acts as both a host and a router, forwarding packets in the appropriate direction.

MANETs offer several advantages and can be widely used in various scenarios, including military battlefields, crisis management services, classrooms, and conference halls. In military operations, MANETs are particularly valuable as they support radio links in operational areas where fixed infrastructure or line-of-sight communications are lacking. The self-forming and self-managing capabilities of MANETs eliminate the need for intensive central management of network links, reducing the requirement for support personnel and equipment in forward located areas.

The benefits of MANETs in military tactical networks are numerous. Firstly, MANETs provide ubiquitous service access, allowing troops to communicate and share critical information anywhere and anytime without relying on fixed infrastructure. This flexibility is crucial in dynamic battlefield environments. Secondly, MANETs enable troops to establish radio links quickly, enabling rapid deployment and maneuverability. This agility is essential for maintaining situational awareness and adapting to changing conditions. Lastly, MANETs offer robust and resilient communication, even in the face of disruptions or disconnections. Nodes in a MANET can route traffic through alternative paths, ensuring reliable connectivity in challenging environments.

By harnessing the power of MANET radios, military forces can enhance their network-centric capabilities and overcome the challenges of battlefield connectivity. MANETs provide the necessary infrastructure-less and adaptable network architecture to support the interconnectivity of warfighting nodes, enabling shared situational awareness and information superiority. As the wireless communications network for tomorrow’s warfighter, MANETs offer a scalable, resilient, and cost-effective solution that empowers military tactical networks and facilitates the full potential of UAV swarms.

For an in-depth understanding on MANET technology and applications please visit: Mobile Ad hoc Networks (MANET): A Comprehensive Guide

Military MANET Applications

The use of Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks (MANETs) in military applications offers significant benefits, especially in scenarios where on-the-fly communication setup is required and traditional infrastructure is unavailable or disrupted. Here are some key areas where MANETs can enhance military operations:

  1. Crisis Management Application:

During natural disasters or other crisis situations, the existing communication infrastructure may be severely damaged or rendered inoperable. MANETs provide a reliable and adaptable solution for restoring communications quickly. Military personnel can establish ad-hoc networks using MANET radios, ensuring effective coordination and information sharing in chaotic environments.

For example, in the aftermath of a traffic accident in a remote location, a paramedic may need immediate access to medical records, such as X-rays. Through a MANET, the paramedic can securely transmit the victim’s X-rays to a hospital in real-time, enabling remote medical assistance and informed decision-making. This application showcases the agility and connectivity provided by MANETs in crisis management scenarios.

  1. Tele-Geo-Processing Application:

The combination of GPS, GIS (Geographical Information Systems), and high-capacity wireless mobile systems enables a new type of application known as tele-geo-processing. MANETs play a crucial role in facilitating this application by providing on-demand connectivity and access to remote databases containing geographical information.

In a large metropolis, emergency responders equipped with MANET-enabled devices can access a remote database that contains detailed graphical representations of buildings, streets, and other physical characteristics. They can virtually explore the internal layout of buildings, access emergency rescue plans, and identify points of interest. MANETs enable seamless communication and data transfer, enhancing situational awareness and improving response times in critical situations.

  1. Integration with IoT and Cloud Computing:

In the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), MANETs play a vital role in connecting smart devices and enabling real-time data sharing and processing. The integration of IoT, cloud computing, and MANETs creates a powerful framework where smart devices can access cloud services through the MANET network.

This framework allows smart devices within a MANET to perform computations, handle data, and manage resources by leveraging cloud services. As the smart devices move within the range of the MANET, they can seamlessly connect to the cloud and utilize real-time cloud services. Integration with mobile apps further enhances the accessibility and usability of cloud services for MANET users.

  1. 5G Communications and MANETs:

The emergence of 5G communications technology brings new opportunities for enhancing MANET networks. 5G offers benefits such as high bandwidth, low latency, and improved device-to-device (D2D) communication capabilities. These advancements can further enhance the performance and capabilities of MANETs in military applications.

For instance, in Vehicular Ad-Hoc Networks (VANETs), which can be part of an infrastructural or infrastructure-less network, autonomous vehicles can leverage 5G’s D2D communication capabilities to improve coordination and safety on the battlefield. Additionally, the use of millimeter wave frequencies (mmWave) in 5G standards enables wider bandwidth and reduced delay, compensating for the limitations of transmission range and beamforming in MANETs.

The application of MANETs in military scenarios offers significant advantages, including rapid communication setup, resilience in disrupted environments, and integration with emerging technologies like IoT and 5G. MANETs enable effective crisis management, facilitate tele-geo-processing applications, and provide seamless connectivity for military personnel in dynamic and challenging environments. By harnessing the power of MANET radios, military forces can improve their operational capabilities, enhance situational awareness, and achieve mission success in even the most demanding situations.

Military MANETs requirements

In general characteristics of MANET systems should abilities of fast network formation, highly efficient routing, scalability, quality of service and security. The highly mobile network nodes in military environment from fast jets, to ground vehicles and helicopters that move through urban environments or mountainous terrain, rapidly losing and reestablishing their line of sight with one another demands a MANET with high processing speed.

 

The terrain in ground environments can pose major challenges like mountains, city structures that can create line-of-sight and multi-path issues for MANET transmissions. As a result, waveform designs for MANETs operating in urban environments are necessarily complex. The vision of Network-centric culture, organizational structure, and doctrine, is based on using information technology to interconnect all the sensors, soldiers, vehicles, and aircraft – the tactical warfighting nodes in addition to C4ISR centers. The resultant shared situational awareness shall achieve information superiority and enable agile employment of a lighter, leaner, more lethal combat enterprise that overwhelms any potential adversary before they respond.

 

Achieving this tactical edge connectivity will depend on the development of significantly improved MANET technologies. To deliver the capabilities that NCW enabled forces required at the tactical edge, an objective MANET must possess four general characteristics: strong connectivity, very high bandwidth, effective security, and survivability.

 

Mobile, ad hoc networking (MANET) radios combine mobility (e.g., mounted, dismount, aerial), a flexible architecture (e.g., point-to-point, point-to-multipoint), and range extension via radios acting as repeaters. BCTs rarely integrate their MANET radios for anything other than basic voice functionality. Moreover, many units urgently request approval and funding for cutting-edge MANET radios (e.g., PRC-148c, PRC-163, TSM 900/950, MPU5), despite existing, capable radios.

 

There have been significant technological improvements with newer MANET radios include increased total node count, greater bandwidth, improved network management, and more capable waveforms. The increased data throughput and relay capability of newer MANET radios should be the foundation for the  Brigade Combat Team (BCT) -and-below tactical network.

 

MANET Challenges

Some characteristics of adhoc network are as follows:

  • Dynamic topologies:Nodes are free to move arbitrarily; thus the network topology may be changed randomly and unpredictably and primarily consists of bidirectional links. In some cases where the transmission power of two nodes is different, a unidirectional link may exist.
  • Bandwidth-constrained and variable capacity links: Wireless links continue to have significantly lower capacity than infrastructure networks.
  • Energy-constrained operation: some or all of the MSs in a MANET may rely on batteries or other exhaustible means for their energy. For these nodes or devices, the most important system design optimization criteria may be energy conservation.
  • Limited physical security: MANETs are generally more prone to physical security threats than wire line networks. The increased possibility of eavesdropping, spoofing, and denial of services (DoS) attacks should be considered carefully. To reduce security threats, many existing link security techniques are often applied within wireless networks.

 

These benefits, however, do not come without some disadvantages. In a MANET, the entire network infrastructure is moving along with the user nodes. As the nodes move, point-to-point links may be dropped due to terrain interference or simply because they move beyond range of other nodes. Node mobility also leads to a network topology that is highly dynamic and prone to frequent changes and errors. Due to this dynamicity, routing protocols which work well in fixed networks do not show the same performance in MANETs.

 

Although voice and short text messages are the main applications for tactical networks it is also important to support standard applications used on today’s Internet, to e.g. provide maps or other content. The obvious solution to support standard applications would be to treat MANETs as a general Internet system and use standard TCP/IP. However, TCP was designed as a reliable end-to-end connection-oriented protocol for data delivery over somewhat unreliable wired networks. In a MANET, which have a substantially higher packet loss rate and jitter compared with a wired network, the performance of TCP dramatically degrades.

 

Research have mainly focused on CSMA based MANETs, i.e. using IEEE 802.11 radio cards. However, using a TDMA scheme has several advantages, e.g. QoS, bounded delays and a stable network under heavy traffic loads. Some of the other MANET technologies are DARPA’s Wireless Network after Next, the waveforms developed under the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW).

 

One of the advantages to legacy voice transmission is that users can use brevity to limit outgoing radio frequency (RF) signatures and reduce the likelihood that an enemy can intercept, jam, or locate friendly forces. However, MANET radios use an always-on network. This creates a constant RF signature that enemy forces can use to locate friendly forces. Currently, users can help reduce the risk of RF or electromagnetic signature detection through terrain masking, lowering radio power levels, using directional antennas or beam forming from multiple omnidirectional antennas, or obfuscation and deception with properly placed decoys or coherent antenna arrays.

 

Army’s Integrated Tactical Networking (ITN)

First, tactical networks must enable synchronous and asynchronous, real-time, and interoperable communications. Synchronized systems rely on network timing, are critical for digitally networked systems (mesh networks), and help mitigate external threats. Asynchronous network attributes allow isolated systems (and units) to rejoin the larger network when timing is lost. Real-time, low-latency links are critical for mission data and a fire mission’s immediate and automated information exchange. Additionally, future conflict will require more than the U.S. Army. Its ability to operate in a joint or coalition environment, no matter the scale, requires interoperable systems. Interaction with anyone, at any time, with little delay, requires technical interoperability.

 

Future tactical communications must increase network mobility; decrease reliance on satellite services; make greater use of terrestrial and aerial relays and transport; and significantly reduce size, weight, and power requirements. This approach demands a simultaneous blending of multiple layers of communication transport and integration of consolidated mission data and network services. Systems should be technically and procedurally interoperable with joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) partners and create a wholly integrated tactical network (ITN). When implemented, the ITN construct must be technically flexible, resilient, and adequately robust for all foreseeable future operations and programmatically sound for future acquisitions. If properly resourced, prioritized, and executed, the new network would mitigate threats and provide excellent expeditionary and on-the-move (OTM) communications.

 

In January 2016, the Army first published Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 6-02.53, Techniques for Tactical Radio Operations. This publication was a major doctrinal shift that indicated future change, but it was unknown to most of the Army. The ATP introduced the concept of the integrated tactical networking environment as the successor network to the lower tactical internet and combat net radio, and it was planned for use down to the lowest tactical level. The plan focused on the integration of MANET radios with existing tactical networks. As updates to doctrine continue, the February 2020 ATP 6-02.53 revises the terms upper tactical internet (Upper TI) and lower tactical internet (Lower TI) with upper tier and lower tier. Additionally, the term “integrated tactical networking environment” is now “tactical networking environment”

 

At the BCT, the ITN seeks to bridge networks into a unified network having three parts: applications, services, and transport. The transport forms the ITN foundation and relies on emerging waveforms and legacy systems from command posts to the tactical edge of the battlefield. The network is then refined across a flattened, lower-tier architecture. Based on the February 2020 ATP 6-02.53, the lower tier is from the individual soldier to brigade and the upper tier consists of multi-channel satellite systems from battalion to corps.

 

The lower tier slants heavily toward LOS-focused MANET radios paired with cellular end user devices (EUDs, e.g., 4G/5G/BT/Wi-Fi) primarily running Tactical Assault Kit software. EUDs are simply cellular phones or tablets paired with special software. While MANET radios can operate independently of the EUD, they gain SA and data tools when paired. The lower tier BLOS capabilities include HF, TACSAT, and future iterations of OTM and at-the-halt SATCOM. Despite long-held notions concerning SATCOM advantages, the most capable equipment for tactical network transport is a terrestrially based MANET mesh. To link air assets, the ITN includes Link-16 and other radios capable of enhanced SA through tactical data link networks. When wideband HF is integrated, BCTs will further benefit from reductions in satellite dependency and improved BLOS redundancy.

 

Early ITN use included small-to-midsize SOF teams with a relatively small number of MANET radios when compared to conventional Army requirements. Currently, the most capable technology only allows for simultaneous operation of approximately 300–350 MANET radios. If too many radios connect to the network, severe degradation or network failure could occur. Based on a conservative estimate of 400–450 MANET radios per BCT, gaining units need to rethink radio allocation, acquire more capable radios, or create properly sized and aligned subnetworks (unit and internet protocol schemes).

 

Conclusion:

Enhancing battlefield connectivity through MANET radios is instrumental in empowering military tactical networks and enabling the full potential of UAV swarms. MANET radios offer decentralized and flexible communication capabilities, ensuring reliable connectivity in dynamic and hostile environments. By enabling rapid deployment, scalability, and resilient communication, MANET radios enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of military operations. Moreover, MANET radios enable real-time communication, coordination, and cooperative sensing within UAV swarms, unlocking their full intelligence and operational capabilities. As battlefield conditions continue to evolve, prioritizing and investing in MANET radios will remain crucial for military forces to maintain a decisive advantage.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/May-June-2020/Blumberg-Int-Tactical-Network/

https://www.ijert.org/manets-for-5g-communication-networking

About Rajesh Uppal

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