Preparing technology for secure comms poses challenges

Integration, ease of use are key requirements

Technology evolves rapidly, making it possible to send larger volumes of data in shorter time frames. But harnessing that technology to provide secure communications that meet a wide range of requirements is a difficult task that requires consideration of many parameters.

Integration is one of the mainstays of current designs. Users want smaller products, and they are keenly interested in systems and modules that provide more than one function. At the same time, ease of use is a key requirement.

“We’re always looking at ease of integration, trying to make antennas smaller and making it easier to meet the specific requirements of vehicles that always require some alteration,” said Rich Hoffmann, lead electronics engineer at the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. “We’re also pushing for a distributed aperture. No matter where you put the antenna, there will be some blind spots.” He was one of the panelists at a LandWarNet 2011 users’ workshop sponsored by the Satellite Industry Association.

Panelists noted that size requirements and financial constraints are driving them toward integrated networks. Vehicles don’t have room for multiple antennas, which are usually more costly than one multifunction antenna.

As commercial suppliers provide more communications bandwidth, there’s a growing possibility that vendors might be asked to operate on networks provided by competitors. That’s not usually part of corporate strategy, but it appears to be something that vendors will do if it’s called for.

“If the Army dictates those requirements, companies that want to be part of the program will have to provide the services that the end user wants,” said John Munoz-Atkinson, director of land mobile programs at Inmarsat.

Although there’s a push to combine all types of communications, product designers won’t always be able to make a single module that meets all requirements. Some satellite links require different components that must be swapped out, so users will have to carry multiple modules.

“Going from Ku to Ka can’t be done by just flipping a switch,” said Army Lt. Col. Robert Collins, product manager of Increments 2/3 of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical. “There are aspects, like spares, that need to be requisitioned along with other nuances we’ve got to look at.”

Although much of the military’s focus is on getting all types of information deep into the field, military planners are trying to avoid overloading warfighters by giving them too much data. Certain types of information might be more useful at the command center-level than in the field.

“Not everything on the network needs to go to the tactical edge,” said Edward Aymar, senior military satellite communications systems analyst at the Army’s Space and Airborne Branch.

He added that wherever data goes, protecting its integrity and keeping it secure are paramount concerns that are creating extra challenges for the engineers who design mobile equipment.

“Not only do we have to put the network on the move, we also have to protect the network on the move,” Aymar said.

Panelists also said that even though the industry is always driving toward new technologies that have higher bandwidth, established communications systems will continue to play a role. “There will always be a need for narrowband 1 communications,” said Jackson Kemper, vice president of government programs at Iridium. “In the future, L capabilities will go up to 1.5 megabits/sec.”

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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