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Predicting Military HF Radio Communications with Distributed Sensors: DARPA’s Canun Mission Planning Tool

Whether in the field of battle, search-and-rescue or humanitarian aid efforts, the ability to share real-time, networked information between ground, sea and airborne forces is rapidly becoming the defining factor in a mission’s success. However modern  satellite and other  communications systems in higher frequecies are under constant threat from adversaries like Russia and china have developed sophiticated Electronic warfare (EW) syatems through which they can jam them. NATO members and partner forces are vulnerable to disruption of satellite communications, particularly along the alliance’s eastern flank where Russian armed forces continue to conduct electronic warfare.

 

Electronic warfare elements deployed within theaters of operation threaten to degrade, disrupt or deny VHF, UHF and SATCOM communication. In this scenario, HF radio is a viable backup mode of communication.  Communication satellites are also easy targets for Russian and Chinese antisatellite systems both ground Ascent missiles and coorbital killer satellites .

 

Warfighters depend on high-frequency (HF) radio transmissions to operate military systems across the space, air, ground, and maritime domains. Current understanding of how HF waves propagate through the electromagnetically noisy ionosphere typically depends on ground-based methods. To more accurately understand HF propagation in space requires scientific measurements taken from within the ionosphere itself.

For in-depth understanding on HF Radio technology and applications please visit: Mastering HF Radio: A Comprehensive Guide to Communication, DXing, Military Applications, and Beyond

HF operates BLOS in the 2 to 30 MHz frequency band by either reflecting off the ionosphere (called Skywave) or refracting off the surface of the earth (called Surface Wave). Different frequencies will reflect off the ionized layers depending upon their height and ionization density which varies depending upon time of day and solar activity.

 

Solar activity as well as the 11-year solar cycle can change the density of the ionosphere, making it much more difficult to predict how radio communications in this region would be affected. The sun, which is scheduled to reach the end of its cycle in 2025, has already produced a number of X-class and big flares in recent times.

 

Thus, multiple HF frequency assignments are required to ensure 24/7/365 reliable communications. It is possible to predict which frequencies will be propagating based upon time of day and solar conditions as well as physical measurement of the ionosphere layers via sounding stations.

 

U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched Canun program in Jan. 2023  project to measure high frequency (HF) radio waves to improve warfighter radio spectrum situational awareness.

 

The objective of the Cancun program is to create distributable nodes to measure the radio high frequency (HF) environment for improved warfighter situational awareness in the HF radio band. The low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) of these nodes will enable cost-effective wide-area deployments.

 

The Cancun program seeks to create distributable nodes to measure HF radio waves for improved warfighter situational awareness. The low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) of these nodes will enable cost-effective wide-area deployments.

Importance of  Distributable nodes

Distributable nodes offer the ability to collect comprehensive data on the HF radio environment, which is crucial for improving warfighter situational awareness. By deploying multiple measurement stations across a wide area, a more complete picture of the HF radio band can be obtained. This data collection includes capturing variations in propagation, interference, noise, and signal characteristics that can impact the effectiveness of communication.

 

Real-time monitoring of the HF radio band is facilitated through distributable nodes. By continuously collecting and analyzing data, warfighters can observe changes in the HF environment and assess the impact on radio communication. This real-time monitoring enhances situational awareness, allowing for prompt adjustments to communication strategies as needed.

 

One of the key benefits of distributable nodes is their ability to characterize propagation conditions. HF radio communication heavily relies on ionospheric propagation, which is influenced by factors such as solar activity, time of day, and geographical location. Distributable nodes enable the measurement of important parameters like signal strength, signal-to-noise ratio, fading, and path loss. This information helps warfighters understand the quality and reliability of HF radio communication in different scenarios, allowing them to make informed decisions about the most effective communication techniques to employ.

 

By deploying distributable nodes, warfighters gain a more detailed understanding of the HF radio environment, leading to improved situational awareness. This information can be crucial in military operations, where effective and reliable communication is essential for mission success. Distributable nodes provide a means to continuously monitor and assess the HF radio band, enabling warfighters to adapt their communication strategies and ensure optimal performance in dynamic and challenging environments.

 

Program

The Cancun nodes will measure the state of the ionosphere using a sounding function, as well as record and relay portions of the HF radio band for analysis.

 

The primary challenge in Cancun is the coordination of large numbers of Cancun units deployed over distances of well over 1,000 kilometers. Cancun will provide a command and control (C2) network and planning tools to address this challenge. The C2 hardware solution may be to utilize existing wired infrastructure or a wireless solution. Communications latency will be an important parameter for this network. The mission planning tool will be developed with warfighter input to optimize functionality.

 

The C2 hardware solution may involve existing wired or wireless infrastructure. Communications latency will be an important parameter for this network. The mission planning tool will be developed with warfighter input to optimize functionality.

Technologies developed under the Cancun program will move over to the U.S. military services.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.militaryaerospace.com/communications/article/14287258/hf-radio-situational-awareness-ionosphere

About Rajesh Uppal

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