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Next generation Military Communications technologies enabling high-throughput mobile, secure, survivable, seamless, in congested and contested environments

Communications is vital for War fighters to exchange voice and data, command and control and situational awareness data and video. The vision of Communications area is to provide reliable communication from anywhere to everywhere from war fighters to supreme commander with demanded rate and least latency by exploiting complete electromagnetic spectrum through nodes deployed under water, water surface, land, air and space. Military Communication systems demand flexibility, adaptability & cognitive controllability of bandwidth, frequency and information rate to ensure robust communications in congested and contested environments.

 

In Army tactical environments, highly efficient and secure communications among armed personnel and vehicles are of utmost importance. With the variation of military missions with respect to physical conditions and the complexity of tasks, high-throughput and resilient wireless communication techniques are required not only in battlefield, but also in catastrophe relief, peacekeeping, etc.

 

In an era of constant technological advances, defence agencies are falling short of battlefield expectations when it comes to military communications technologies, according to a study released by Government Business Council (GBC), the research division of Government Executive Media Group, in partnership with Viasat. Based on a survey of over 300 U.S. active military and Department of Defense (DoD) participants across the nation, this study investigated the role of military connectivity and evaluated the practicality and effectiveness of U.S. military communications technologies.

 

Respondents noted that the three biggest challenges facing their organizations’ network modernization efforts are an inability to keep pace with commercial technology, procurement inefficiencies and limited funding.

 

Next-generation MILCOM platforms face the challenge of closing some of the gaps between military and commercial communications systems. These MILCOM platforms will need to change from voice-only systems by adding data and text capability. This shift will enable the delivery of data such as mapping, images, and video to a soldier in the battlefield.

 

The military communications is also vulnerable to the disruptions from  Jamming,  attacks on fiber-optic undersea cables as well as satellites, cyberattacks on the software of the radios to  a high-altitude, nuclearinduced electromagnetic pulse.

 

Even when communications systems within a small unit survive enemy attack, or find themselves outside the targeted zone of intense jamming, communications with central authority may suffer. It is because of such concerns, for example, that the Army’s Maneuver Warfare Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia is examining concepts of future operations in which a brigade might be cut off from divisional or corps headquarters for an extended period, and have to function entirely on its own during that time.

Military Communications trends

Military communications systems are becoming smaller, lighter, covering more bands and carrying more voice and data. Today’s military forces are relying more and more on mobile technology—from laptops and tablet computers to portable electronic devices (PEDs), personal digital assistants (PDAs), and smartphones Another trend is the increasing overlap between military and security forces in combating terrorism. This requires interoperability, multi-mode operation and enhanced spectrum for our new systems.

 

The issue is that wider bandwidths create challenges for the radio platforms, primarily around size, weight, and power (SWaP). The traditional radio frequency (RF) signal chains used by MILCOM platforms will not scale to wider bandwidths and digital modulation schemes without consuming much more power, and they will also increase in size and weight. This growth in SWaP is unacceptable to the soldier, who needs a smaller, more capable radio that can be powered for long mission durations on minimal battery power. Thus, next-generation MILCOM platforms will require new RF signal chain architectures.

 

Military Adhoc sensor networks shall be widely deployed for battlefield surveillance, detecting and characterizing Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) attacks and materials. Each node may be equipped with a variety of sensors, such as acoustic, seismic, infrared, still/motion videocamera, etc. The enabling technologies are short range radios along, wireless networking, power management, collaborative signal processing, security architecture and mechanisms etc.

 

Army’s WIN-T tactical network

Today’s soldiers expect to have network access anywhere, anytime. With the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), enables mission command and secure reliable voice, video and data communications on-the-move anytime, anywhere without the need for fixed infrastructure.

WARFIGHTER INFORMATION NETWORK - TACTICAL (WIN-T) - FY00 Activity

To function effectively, military command and control depends on a complex communication network of equipment, personnel, and communication protocols to relay information among forces. WINT-T  is the Army’s 21st Century C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) infrastructure that provides capabilities that are mobile, secure, survivable, seamless, and capable of supporting multimedia tactical information systems.

 

The WIN-T network allow all Army commanders, and other communications network users, at all echelons, to exchange information internal and external to the theater, from wired or wireless telephones, computers (internet-like capability) or from video terminals.

 

First deployed in Iraq in 2004, WIN-T meant soldiers “had a high-speed, interoperable voice and data communications network at the battalion level”, General Dynamics says. It offered soldiers the ability to stream real-time video, view a topographical map of friendly forces, send texts requesting medical assistance, digitally call for artillery support, and access mission command apps like command post of the future and tactical ground reporting system. The apps meant soldiers could personalise what they were using to achieve their operational objectives. They use the likes of Google Earth, and drag and drop functions to share data with colleagues on the ground and back at command.

 

Combination of commercial and military communications

“The State of Military Communications survey, a first of its kind study, indicates the compelling need for enhanced communications technology to be delivered to our military forces on a much faster timeline so that warfighters have the same connectivity during their deployment as they have at home,” said Ken Peterman, president, Government Systems, Viasat. “Acquisition models must adapt to better leverage private sector technology, so that military connectivity can keep pace with accelerating private sector technology trajectories. By increasingly leveraging private sector capabilities in the vital technology sectors of satellite communications, tactical networking, cybersecurity and cloud-based systems, the DoD can maintain information dominance at the tactical edge, which is crucial to mission success across the current and future technology-driven battlespace.”

 

US Army has devised a new strategy that leverages a combination of  commercial  and military technology to manage challenges to battlefield connectivity rather than simply trying to negate them. The idea is that by offering battlefield commanders an array of options for communicating with troops, it may be feasible to sustain connectivity even in the harshest war fighting environments.  The service hopes that  diversification of its communications options, through upcoming plethora of planned microsatellite constellations offering worldwide connectivity, would overwhelm the resources of adversaries bent on degrading joint-force connectivity. This will also allow army to utilize advanced commercial innovations in areas such as signal processing, power management and spectrum utilization.

 

Experience with smartphones in the military has shown that they can compromise security through features such as geo-location services, which is why the US Army has reportedly prohibited its service personnel from using those services in operational environments.

 

Emerging cloud-based systems, artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities will be critical to future mission success. Over 60% of respondents agree cloud-enabled technologies will play an increasingly significant role in enhancing and accelerating the U.S. military’s decision-making capabilities. In addition, 81% of respondents agree it’s critical for U.S. military forces to have access to a modernized end-to-end satellite and terrestrial networks to make cloud-enabled technologies and the Internet of Battlefield Things a reality across the battlespace.

 

US Army looks to millimeter waveforms

The research and development organization tackling future capabilities for the Army’s tactical network team has several efforts underway with millimeter wave technology, a frequency channel that could allow for improved communications in the future. The Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s C5ISR (Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) Center is exploring new capabilities that could allow for more secretive communication.

 

The first area the service is exploring is WiGig, essentially the latest version of Wi-Fi that uses the 60GHz frequency band. According to Dan Duvak, chief of the C5ISR Center’s Radio Frequency Communications Division, the service is attracted to WiGig because the advanced technology allows narrow beams that point in a specific direction. In the future, this will help the Army’s command posts evade detection.

 

“They’re like laser beams being pointed from your router to each user,” Duvak said. “So what we see on the battlespace is taking that commercial technology and pairing it with existing Wi-Fi capabilities at command posts. So now we reduce the detectability because we have these very small pencil beam-type signals, going just user to user, right, instead of a big bubble of blasting energy.” The technology is another piece of the Army’s capability set process, packages of new network tools the service’s tactical network team is delivering to soldiers every two years. The WiGig technologies are targeted for capability set ‘25 and will improve data rates, with some systems getting up to gigabits per second of data flow, greater than current capabilities, Duvak said.

 

The C5ISR Center is working with two companies on two other millimeter wave technologies to solve mobility and range challenges with commercial offerings, such as routers that are stationary and made for houses with a range of only several meters, he said. Through work with a company called FIRST RF, the Army was able to reconfigure a commercial technology to extend the range from meters to kilometers. Custom software and antennas also give the radio antijam capabilities. The service is looking to use this technology for its distributed command post or manned-unmanned teaming. The R&D outfit is also working on a custom waveform with Collins Aerospace in the 30GHz range. That project is targeting manned-unmanned teaming between air assets.

 

“Our target here is air applications, and a lot of it is the integration within the airframe,” Duvak said. “We traded off a little bit of the throughput. So on that one, we’re probably not at that gigabit per second, we’re more in the tens or hundreds of megabits per second. But we’re getting a lot more range by doing so.”

 

Integrating 5G into the defence infrastructure

Meanwhile, the introduction of 5G networks is gathering pace, opening up a new era of possibilities – and threats – for military communications.

The New York Times reported  that the US government has defined 5G competition as a “new arms race.” According to the report, “whichever country dominates 5G will gain an economic, intelligence and military edge for much of this century.” The transition to 5G is a revolution and “this will be almost more important than electricity,” an analyst was quoted by the report as saying.

 

This next-generation network holds enormous promise, including fast Internet for everyone, smart cities, driverless cars, critical health care, “internet of things” revolution, and reliable and secure communications for critical infrastructures and services.

 

The military requirements for higher data rates for network-centric capabilities and the increasing demand for data transmission to support situational awareness is driving the move to higher RF frequencies (60 GHz, 94 GHz). The push to higher radio frequencies makes available greater bandwidths and reductions in size – both attractive propositions for the military in much the same way as it is attractive to civilian users. DARPA, is working on a project called Mobile Hotspots, which would provide millimetre wave communications to troops in remote areas via drones, giving them access to wireless speeds of around 1 Gb per second.

 

Many 5G systems are based on the wide spectrum available at mmWave frequencies, essentially 30 GHz and above. The giant investments into mmWave will produce a thriving commercial industry generating passive components, radios, power amps, antennas, and the like. This will result in drop in prices of these components, much to the benefit of existing military applications including satellite communication. Similarly  the considerable investment into 5G low-cost phased array antennas, beamforming algorithms, and phase and amplitude adjustable components will lead to cost and productivity advancements for its higher end military  phased-array radars. 5G mobile applications will add real-time tracking as well.

 

The military also require High-mobility connectivity. Communications devices must operate while vehicles or soldiers are mobile, even at speeds in excess of 100 mph. Samsung researchers confirmed the world’s first data rate of 1.2 Gbps, or 150 MB per second on a vehicle cruising at over 100 km/h. 5G soldiers could receive real-time streaming video from aircraft, such as the Predator Drone flying over a battlefield.

 

Military engagements are often spontaneous, and a communications solution needs to be, as well. The communication system should be deployable with little or no fixed architecture. 5G shall enable future Military Adhoc sensor networks that are expected to be widely deployed for battlefield surveillance, detecting and characterizing Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) attacks and materials.

 

The 5G is also a key technology that shall enable IoT and Military internet of things (MIOT). Military internet of things (MIOT) would provide communications among  multitude of platforms, ranging from ships to aircraft to ground vehicles to weapon systems.

 

Each node may be equipped with a variety of sensors, such as acoustic, seismic, infrared, still/motion video camera, etc. These WSNs may connect to the rest of the world through the 5G cellular network. The Mobile phones may themselves be integrated with more and more actual sensor capabilities and form a wireless sensor network.

 

 

While 5Gt offers potential unlike anything before it within the military domain, undoubtedly the biggest single threat it brings is jamming and signal interception.

 

Military satellite communications

Military satellite communications networks provide for the exchange of voice, video and data between geographically dispersed elements of a battle force, where other forms of terrestrial networks may not be feasible. In today’s warfighting environment, the need for information is critical and satellites provide warfighters with beyond line-of-sight communications, allowing small units of special operators performing missions in isolated locations to maintain contact with each other and with headquarters.

 

The need for higher data rates for network-centric capabilities and the increasing demand for data transmission to support situational awareness is driving the  move to higher RF frequencies (60 GHz, 94 GHz) and also from traditional RF communication, to ‘free-space optical’ (FSO) communication (also known as laser communication). The move to higher RF frequencies (60 GHz, 94GHz) will be driven by cost effective semiconductor devices. Modern Militaries are deploying multibeam Ka band communications satellites to provide gigabytes per second capacity as well as reductions in system size..

Terahertz Communications

The Net Centric Operations shall demand large spectrum and terahertz shall be critical enabler by providing terabits per second data rate. The communications area shall see deployment of terahertz UWB Soldier Communications, THz long range communication Links and Nanoscale communication Networks.

 

An ability to create highly directional beams with miniature size antenna arrays in conjunction with the high theoretical capacity of THz links results in a number of benefits for the security-sensitive usage, especially in military applications.  THz ad hoc network can be formed in the battlefield to connect soldiers, armoured personnel carriers, tanks, etc. The limited transmission range and highly directional antennas makes eavesdropping extremely difficult.

 

Mulitfunctional Devices

Another trend is multifunctional devices providing communications, RF sensing and electronic warfare in a single package that’s built on a software radio platform. The military ability requirements are multi-band, multi-mode, secure (Voice, Video & Data), dynamical  reconfiguration based on mission, adaptation to Unknown Waveform of Friendly users, recognition of adversary’s waveforms (EW COMINT) and Dynamic Spectrum Management.

 

Software Defined radio to cognitive radio

Software Defined Radio (SDR) providing video, data, and voice communications to war fighters is the critical enabling technology for Network Centric Operations. SDR has been deployedboth military and civilian users.

 

The US Army, for instance, has been looking to modernise its tactical military communications infrastructure for more than 20 years, starting with the joint tactical radio system (JTRS) in 1997.

 

“The basic idea was to field a family of radios and waveforms that could be modified by downloading new software rather than replacing expensive hardware,” Loren Thompson, chief executive officer of Source Associates and chief operating officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute wrote for Forbes in 2018. “Software reconfigurability supposedly would enable a patchwork of disparate networks to communicate as if everyone was using an iPhone, even in the midst of combat.”

 

The cognitive radio is next important expected development in military communications. Cognitive radios are aware of their internal state and environment can use computer intelligence to make decisions and automatically adapt themselves to user needs and band conditions.  In military applications they shall have capability to identify possible radio and sensor jamming threats and then transmit without affecting friendly signals. Cognitive Radio networks shall be employed for sharing of spectrum availability status and negotiating operational parameters.

 

Optical / Laser Communication

Modern defense systems are migrating toward optically based imaging, remote sensing, communications, and weapons. Fiber Optical communication systems, enabled by Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers (EDFA) technology have replaced of electronic communications in the telecom, datacom and military communications especially for long haul (> 1000 km) communication links. Also at the metro, to access, to in-room and intra-rack scales, optical fiber has completely replaced copper due to its advantages like high speed, minimum EMI.

 

The Free Space Optical Communication (FSO) technology has matured to some extent for fixed-site commercial deployments.  The military adoption of FSO data links is also increasing because of their ability to provide gigabits/s data rates ,low probability of intercept (LPI), low probability of jamming (LPJ) as well as the potential for extremely low bit error rate (BER) characteristics.

 

The potential applications of Free Space Optical Links in the military domain are many, from short-range inter-ship links and UAV-to-ground data links. FSO systems are expected to dominate aircraft-to-aircraft and satellite-to-satellite communications links,  where the weather and fog, turbulence and battlefield obscurants cannot degrade their system performance. The challenges faced with deploying FSO systems on mobile military platforms like pointing, acquisition and tracking technologies, required to compensate for atmospheric scintillation, and platform motion, together with the effects of the weather, eye safety considerations and detection in a high scattering environment, are expected to be overcome

 

Underwater Communication

Communicating underwater  of vital importance to the  Navies. An early form of underwater acoustic communication technology, the underwater telephone, was developed for use by U.S. Navy submarines shortly after World War II and has been in steady use in the decades since then. Operating on the same principles as terrestrial single side band radios, AN/WQC-2A telephones enable submarine crews to communicate with one another over several nautical miles.

 

The underwater communications shall see development of megabit per second duplex communication link between airborne assets like UAV or satellite and underwater assets including submarine based on Blue Green laser and buoy assisted technologies.

 

 

Quantum Communication

Quantum communication  technology is considered to be unbreakable and impossible to hack. However long distance national quantum communication technology requires Quantum Satellite based Communication networks. Many other countries like United States, Canada, Japan, Russia and some EU countries are all racing to develop quantum communication networks as they are virtually un-hackable. China  launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite officially known as Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, or QUESS, satellite in 2016.

 

Military Communications Market

Military Communications Market size was USD 39.86 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 62.96 billion by 2026, thereby exhibiting a CAGR of 6.18% during the forecast period.

 

In the defense sector, maintenance of consistent communication and protection of highly confidential information are two of the major requirements. Inaccurate transfer of real time data and leakage of crucial data may result in disputes and pose a risk to the safety of the masses worldwide. Defense communication is often dependent on a vast and complex network of software and hardware components for conveying the messages across the globe.

 

In addition to that, it consists of all the aspects related to the transmission of information by military forces for well-organized control, command, military surveillance, and functioning. The investment in the military is likely to upsurge in the coming years because of the rising disputes among various countries. However, such communication is mission-critical. Hence, it may hinder the Military Communications Market growth during the forecast period.

 

In terms of components, the market is bifurcated into software and hardware. The software segment held a 26.5% defense communication market share in 2018 and is expected to grow at a fast pace throughout the forecast period. This growth is attributable to the higher usage of software-defined radio (SDR) systems in military forces. SDR offers improved functions to the end-user. It is also capable of transmitting data, voice, and video across dissimilar systems. Besides, it can integrate cross banding and can perform multi modes of operations by utilizing multiple frequency bands.

 

Based on the region, the market is segregated into North America, Asia Pacific, Europe, and the rest of the world. Out of these, North America procured USD 15.35 billion in Military Communications Market revenue in 2018. It occurred because of the existence of numerous prominent communication equipment and system manufacturers in this region. Europe is anticipated to grow considerably fueled by the presence of several naval and airborne communication solution manufacturers, namely, Cobham Plc. and Thales Group.

 

Asia Pacific, on the other hand, is projected to showcase robust growth in the coming years backed by the rising deliveries of commercial aircraft in the developing nations, such as China and India. Apart from that, these countries are experiencing a surge in military spending to remold their military systems for strengthening the defense sector.

 

Key Players in the market are ASELSAN A.S., Cobham PLC, Collins Aerospace, General Dynamics Corporation, Honeywell International Inc.
Iridium Communications Inc., L3Harris Technologies, Inc., Lockheed Martin Corporation, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon Company, Rohde & Schwarz, Thales Group, Viasat Inc.

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.army-technology.com/features/future-military-communications/

https://spacewatch.global/2019/10/first-ever-state-of-military-communications-study-finds-current-military-technology-falling-behind-putting-missions-at-risk/

About Rajesh Uppal

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