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DARPA looks to boost tactical networks with cloud

A pair of new networking programs will push data down to the smallest units

As the U.S. military continues to become more network enabled, the demand for data at the tactical edge has grown exponentially. Where once the need for streaming video and live tactical data once resided at the battalion level, now company and platoon commanders have access to and demand an increasing share of network access. New technologies pushing information down to the squad level only help to accelerate this process.

The Pentagon's research and development arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has two new efforts in its proposed Fiscal 2012 budget request designed to distribute information across the entire battlefield, The Cloud to the Edge and Mobile Hot Spots programs, reports Spencer Ackerman at Wired's Danger Room's blog.

The Cloud to the Edge program will look at commercial systems such as distributed servers, advanced networking and information database technologies that can be used in military settings to provide warfighters with on-demand access to high bandwidth data such as live video streams from aerial surveillance platforms.

According to DARPA, the program will use these commercial technologies to demonstrate workable prototype systems in networking, servers and information dissemination techniques “to enable efficient, robust information dissemination using dynamic, mobile ad hoc military networks.” The technologies developed must also be able to autonomously locate relevant information and move it to where it is needed on the network “in a timely and assured manner.”

If funding is granted, in fiscal 2012, the Cloud to the Edge program will conduct preliminary proof of concept research and analysis, develop software architectures for distributed data dissemination and develop key-enabling technologies.

But moving cloud data also requires bandwidth and multiple communications nodes. This can be extremely difficult in remote, mountainous regions such as eastern Afghanistan. To meet this challenge and to keep the data flowing, DARPA is also working on the Mobile Hot Spots program. The agency notes that the demand for data at the tactical level vastly outstretches the current network’s ability to provide information, especially for the smallest and most forward units.

The program will try to provide a distribution system analogous to commercial regional, neighborhood networks and distributed access points. DARPA will look at advances in high capacity, secure wireless technologies, such as radio frequency, millimeter wave and optical systems. Besides developing new technologies or applying systems under development in other DARPA programs, the Mobile Hot Spots effort will also examine suitable commercial wireless technologies such as short-range, high-speed communications portals and high data rate networking systems.

If funding is approved, work will focus on these aspects:

  • Building and testing hardware and software networking architectures.
  • Establishing an ability to support high speed-high data rate activity in communications networks.
  • Designing waveform options and applications for platforms such as unmanned aerial vehicles, soldiers and ground vehicles.
  • Developing an initial security solution.

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