Self-replicating capability key to mobile device use

Harnessing capacity in a battlefield network can provide high-quality video, high-speed data and voice communications

Mobile computing devices are ubiquitous in the commercial world, and they also have crept on to the battlefield in an unofficial fashion.

Defense Department officials want to harness the capacity of these devices in a battlefield network that can provide high-quality video and high-speed data along with voice communications. But it’s not as easy as just putting a smart phone in a soldier’s hands and telling him to dial into a local network.

Commercial mobile-computing technology “has really taken off … and I think there’s some frustration about why we can’t just translate that to the battlefield,” said Joe Taylor, vice president of mission command systems in Northrop Grumman’s Information Systems division.

Taylor noted that an existing, on-the-ground infrastructure needed by commercial cellular networks won’t always exist on the battlefield; a tactical network needs to be one that can spread itself, device by device, while troops are on the move.

“Most of our enemies will not allow us to set up the network before attacking,” he said.

The Army has in recent years reorganized its efforts to build an integrated voice, video and data network down to the individual soldier level, creating the Network Integration Evaluation process to test commercial technologies and speed into service those which fit the troops’ needs . The next NIE is scheduled to take place in May at Fort Bliss, Texas.

DOD in summer 2012 also established the Joint Tactical Networking Center (JTNC) to manage tactical waveforms. The idea was to promote standardization and integration of tactical networks, officials said.

“The JTNC will ensure interoperability across the services by providing standardized waveforms and other networking applications that operate in a variety of program-of-record and commercial hardware transport solutions,” said COL William “Russ” Wygal, project manager for tactical radios at the Army’s program executive office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (C3T).

“It will allow the continued development of open standards that industry can build to, ensuring wide access to government-owned, non-proprietary software so that the military can benefit from innovation and competitive pricing by industry," he said.

Several companies are vying for the opportunity to provide the military’s next-generation mobile communications devices, including Harris RF Communications, maker of the AN/PRC-117G Falcon III man-portable radio, which adds wideband data capabilities to the traditional voice communications function, and General Dynamics, maker of the AN/PRC-154 Rifleman radio for the individual soldier.

Northrop Grumman is offering its SoldierLink system, a lightweight waveform system that uses hand-held radio technology adapted from the coal mining industry, Taylor said. SoldierLink is the kind of self-replicating mobile network needed for military use.

The system, originally developed by Rajant, uses an advanced kinetic networking waveform, which can operate on a single frequency or multiple ones. The performance of the network increases with the number of nodes on it. The radios are the communications link in the Army’s Nett Warrior program, which is designed to provide situational analysis and mission command tools for leaders.

For the individual soldier’s piece of the network, Harris is offering the RF-3590 Ruggedized Tablet, an Android-based mobile device that weighs less than two pounds and lets troops access wideband voice, video and data communications on the battlefield.

Northrop Grumman also is partnering with BAE Systems to develop an offering in the Army’s new Ground Combat Vehicle competition that integrates on-the-move communications into the design and enables plug-in updating to take advantage of new technologies. The idea is to eliminate the challenges of installing networked systems into existing vehicles.

The whole backbone is designed to evolve as computers change, Taylor said.

ITT Exelis is focusing on a modular system that can be configured differently based on need, from the brigade down to the platoon level, said Rob Semple, the company’s manager of business development. The system also is designed to be quickly moveable from one vehicle to another, in some cases in less than an hour.

“We provide secure and non-secure voice, video and data traffic in a smaller package,” he added.

ITT Exelis also is promoting new software based on its ENVI Image Analysis package that would provide ground troops real-time access to airborne and satellite image analysis through mobile devices.

The new software would enable commanders to access analyzed geospatial intelligence data in a format that would let them act on it. For example, access to analyzed video from Predator drones could help commanders identify and avoid areas where enemy troops are planting improvised explosive devices.

As the next-generation systems are developed, the Army is holding a competition to purchase about 5,000 units of the vehicle-mounted Soldier Radio Waveform Appliqué Radio System, which would add interim networking capabilities to current Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) VRC-92 installations. The add-on data transmission module would enable the radios to transmit information between the squad- and team-level JTRS Rifleman Radio and the Army's larger tactical communications network.

ITT Exelis, along with Harris and General Dynamics, are bidding for the five-year base contract, which includes five one-year options. A winning bidder is expected to be selected during the middle of 2013.

Each SRW Appliqué is expected to cost the Army about $20,000, compared to $78,000 for a two-channel digital manpack.

Additional Online Resources

Harris ruggedized tablet brochure

Nett Warrior graphic from PEO Soldier

Army 2013 equipment modernization plan

Defense Systems Update

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