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USAF requires Seamless multi-domain communications “network of networks” fabric across C2ISR enterprise for implementing multi domain operations

Developing and delivering air superiority for the highly contested environment in 2030 requires a multi-domain focus on capabilities and capacity, according to the unclassified version of the Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan.  “After 25 years of being the only great power out there, we’re returning to a world of great power competition,” said Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes.  “We need to develop coordinated solutions that bring air, space, cyber, the electronic environment and surface capabilities together to solve our problems.”


Implementing multi domain operations require is achieving MDC2. MDC2 can be defined as C2 across all domains that protects, permits and enhances the conduct of operations to create desired effects at the time, place and method of choosing. Recently, the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force published a white paper that describes three characteristics of MDC2: situational awareness, rapid decision-making, and the ability to direct joint forces to achieve Commander’s intent. The technical challenges with operationalizing this concept is that MDC2 systems must have a network that supports the exchange of ‘big data’, removes stove-piped data streams, and improves interoperability.


The communications environment today consists of a multitude of communications systems designed to meet specific and often discrete needs. This has resulted in “stove pipe” systems which have limited interoperability due to system-unique technical, data, security, and interface standards.


The Air Force Research Laboratory, Information Directorate (AFRL/RI) is seeking information to better understand existing vendor offerings and the landscape of research and development (R&D) on building a seamless multi-domain communications “network of networks” fabric across the Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C2ISR) enterprise. The goal is not a single network; rather, a “network of networks” paradigm that appears seamless to the user and encompasses various missions, geographic areas, and threat environments.


The ability to communicate has huge impact, it goes beyond allowing users to talk to each other; for the military it enables not just a kill-chain (a linear sequence to find-fix-track-target-engage-assess) but rather a “kill-web” compromised of complex connections between assets facing potential disruptions from many different directions and failure points.


Key to delivering any communication capability is understanding the network information exchange requirements (IERs) of each node (platform) type to support effective mission execution. These IERs, in turn, drive the characteristics incumbent upon the network – i.e. bandwidths, frequencies, latency, information priority to the mission, and how long a node will be present on the network; i.e. dedicated versus opportunistic.

Seamless multi-domain communications “network of networks” fabric across the Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C2ISR) enterprise.

These networks must bridge and span enterprise, strategic, and tactical operations globally to include high capacity backbone & tactical mesh interconnects to the edge. Moving towards a network of networks paradigm, AFRL/RI is developing technologies to CONNECT – SECURE – SHARE.


  1. CONNECT: Communication Links and Networks

The goal is to provide reliable wideband LOS/BLOS connectivity, which is survivable in a contested environment towards a secure tactical intranet. This encompasses both physical and network layer challenges to include waveforms, modulation, spectrum selection, and spectrum maneuver across bands e.g. multiple RF and optical.

Key challenges at the physical layer include but are not limited to: Propagation in varying environments, Agility for spectrum maneuver, Link Survivability in contested environments. Key challenges at the network layer include but are not limited to: Provisioning for unanticipated users & nodes, Scalability, and Dynamic network topologies.

The following cause challenges at both layers: User mobility (velocities, trajectories), Timing (synchronization/latency), Interference (Non-intentional / Intentional), and Power constraints. The capability to be spectrum-agile within and across multiple bands is critical to assured communications.

This requires building Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) and Line of Sight (LOS) communications capabilities that support: (i) agile wideband communications; (ii) affordable, secure, and robust multi-mission RF functions; and (iii) advanced low probability of intercept (LPI), low probability of detection (LPD) for survivability.

Key technologies that are poised to overcome these challenges include: waveform design, modulation techniques, quantum, multi-antenna technologies, mil-hardened software defined radio, intelligent apertures, sparsity, directional networking, tactical software defined networking, autonomous protocol development, and network monitoring and management.



  1. SECURE: Secure Multi-Domain Architectures

Data and information across multiple networks and devices must be secured before it is shared. Information resides at different security levels on different devices & networks where users have varying privileges. The ability to move information across networks and devices from multiple forms of information (e.g., voice, video, text, files) as well as between networks of differing classifications and releasabilities is a necessity. There are two key technical challenges: 1) transfer of information across networks and (2) access requiring trust in users and devices.

A military-unique challenge is tactical information sharing across joint and coalition forces. Fundamental technical challenges to transfer and access information are exacerbated at the tactical edge due to mobility and coordination between different varying joint-coalition forces. Joint and coalition information sharing, has and continues to be a huge challenge.

Within even a single security domain there are many different restrictions and distribution groups that span our joint and coalition partners. Currently, this is a mainly manual process which is extremely human intensive. The ability to learn the origin of information and how aggregation dictates distribution and restrictions is a core technical challenge, envisioned to be machine learning assisted. For example, currently a lieutenant can classify information but only a general officer can declassify it. The near term must begin to build milestones towards achieving this goal. Technologies developed enable secure connectivity across multiple security domains.

Technologies that are poised to close the gap include but are not limited to: (1) high assurance internet protocol encryptor (HAIPE), and (2) machine learning for determining file source creation (human-assisted) and authorized distribution (e.g. course of action (COA) generation for network operators/C2).



  1. SHARE: Secure Information as a Service

The digital transformation has changed not only technology but the way commercial industry is doing business, with the adoption of the As-a-Service model. Commercial communication and network companies are aiming to provide, “Data as a Service”, and “Information as a Service”. We aim to provide “Secure Information as a Service”. The emphasis on security is of strategic importance as in the commercial world the paradigm is to first connect then secure versus the military’s security focused paradigm. The goal is to connect tactical information seamlessly across multiple domains on-demand, at scale. These goals synergize with “combat cloud” concepts. It includes data from current and future generation aircraft, sensors, and other sources, enabled by technologies including gateways, data links, and a distributed server infrastructure. Technologies poised to close these gaps include but are not limited to: 1) cloud computing for tactical – tailored for AF use-cases that balance security and distribution of information, data management and storage, 2) information priority and scheduling, and 3) information interoperability between varying message formats and sensor types.



  1. Network Verification and Validation (V&V) for Contested Environments

The capability to test the performance of capabilities developed within the CAD portfolio in real over-the-air environments and against realistic threats is of critical importance. V&V to CONNECT – SECURE – SHARE is tied to their position in protocol stack, e.g. the ability to connect requires physical and network layer capability while sharing primarily targets the application layer. This requires a combination of both modeling and simulation (M&S) capability as well as over-the-air test capability. These capabilities will enable side-by-side government V&V of communications and networking technologies in multi-mission scenarios, from permissive to contested environments, in order to assess operational relevance decreasing both cost and risk while increasing ease of integration.


AFRL posts aerial warfighting network BAA

On December 10, the Air Force Research Laboratory posted a broad agency announcement for Timely, Secure, and Mission-Responsive Aerial Warfighting Network Capabilities (BAA NUMBER: FA8750-19-S-7001). For best consideration for funding in FY19, AFRL recommends that white papers be submitted by January 18, 2019.


This BAA is focused on the innovation, development, and maturation of secure communications, networking, and information management technologies.  The critical need is to develop affordable, extensible, interoperable communications architectures that intelligently distribute information in a robust way that enables shared situational awareness and timely decision-making, ultimately, to assure the mission.


The network brings together platforms, sensors & shooters at the Commander’s disposal to dynamically task and rapidly deploy in response to threats and mission needs as they evolve. A timely, secure, and mission-responsive network is critical to the translation of sensory data into actionable information and for assuring tailored communications globally, from the (permissive) C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) enterprise to the (highly contested) tactical edge. To build future AF network capabilities that can respond to the mission, operations tempo, and threat environment, the Government cannot rely solely on a data-neutral network. The future lies in affordable, extensible, interoperable communications architectures that intelligently distribute information in a robust way that enables shared situational awareness and timely decision-making, ultimately, to assure the mission.


Work is encouraged in, but not limited to, these focus areas:

1.0 Agile, Resilient, Affordable, and IP capable battlefield networking architecture integrating alternative Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities

 Develop functional capabilities, concepts, theory and application using existing infrastructure to ensure backwards compatibility along with mature technology to support operations in Satellite Communications (SATCOM) and PNT denied or restricted environments to include Anti-Access, Area Denied (A2/AD) operations.


 This capability will be achieve by focusing on aircraft integration to ensure affordability and enhance flexibility in supporting changes in mission and technology. Implementation will use military communication links.


 The proposed architecture will provide support for several Combatant Command (COCOM) missions in a SATCOM restricted or denied environment as well as accelerate the speed of decision to get inside the enemy’s Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) loop.


2.0 Agile Communication Links & Networks

 Develop reliable wideband connectivity capabilities to support: (i) agile wideband communications; (ii) affordable, secure, and robust multi-mission radio frequency (RF) functions; and (iii) advanced low probability of intercept (LPI), low probability of detection (LPD), and anti‐jam (AJ) modes.


 Push the state-of-the-art in military link capacity from single to tens of Gigabits per second to keep pace with the growing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensor suite output. Some of this wideband capability will be leveraged for servicing key nodes in the high capacity backbone envisaged by the Joint Aerial Layer Network (JALN).


 This work is comprised of both line of sight (LOS), to include hybrid RF and optical links, and beyond line of sight (BLOS) connectivity, to include satellite and over-the-horizon communications. Both LOS and BLOS communications must be exploited by an aerial network (AN) to provide a resilient information transport capability.


3.0 Tactical Network Security/Information Assurance

 Demonstrate ability to securely share multiple forms of information (e.g., voice, video, text, files) among networks of differing classifications and releasabilities. Information exchanges are secured through a combination of data inspection to prevent data spills and propagation of cyber-attacks, data canonicalization to simplify these data inspection techniques, and novel methods to attest the provenance of trusted data in an assured manner.


 Develop a more agile and robust information management capability that spans security domains, allowing for more seamless sharing with our coalition partners. The secure data sharing capability develops technologies to enable both information sharing and data exchange across multiple security domains (e.g. JWICS, SIPRNET, NIPRNET, coalition networks) and also push the state-of-the-possible in object‐level protection at a level commensurate with enforcing mandatory access controls on a single, multi‐level network.


 Demonstrate a wide range of information exchange capabilities that are scalable, adaptable, secure, resilient, context-aware, federated and responsive to dynamic mission conditions and management policies. The technologies to support these capabilities include: mission-oriented architectures, Quality of Service policies, publish/subscribe/query mechanisms, semantic characterization, federation, machine learning, opportunistic resource scheduling, peer-to-peer protocols, and open system architectures



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