Tactical communications

Air Force wants to toughen up aerial layer communications

The Air Force has begun the process of collaborating with industry leaders to upgrade its military airborne network, with a greater emphasis on open, flexible and wireless systems operating in difficult environments.

The Air Force Research Laboratory has posted a solicitation on the FedBizOps website asking for white papers to support the research, design, and development of technologies for airborne networking for use in improving its aerial layer communications.

Aerial layer networking operates as a framework guiding the Air Force in designing and implementing systems to maintain air and cyber space superiority, according to the Air Force. In one example, the Air Force has recently been working on the Joint Aerial Layer Network, which would allow data from the fighter network to be utilized by ground forces. The program was originally designed to ensure that fifth-generation fighter aircraft like the F-35 and F-22 would be able to share information with fourth-generation fighters such as the F-16 and F-15.

AFRL is looking to upgrade current aerial layer networks. The main concern is that current networks have limited combat effectiveness in contested, degraded, operationally limited and anti-access area denial environments where communications may be unavailable. Additionally, the Air Force is preparing for situations in which U.S. and allied forces are outnumbered and outgunned.

Network management is also a concern in planning and managing multi-information, link-based airborne networks and in planning future heterogeneous architectures. Current network management and recovery mechanisms are unable to maintain a requisite level of network survivability and reliability in battle.

 The upgrades would require significant changes to the attributes of the current network, taking the network:

  • From platform- and link-centric network to network-of-networks centric. 
  • From self-contained to open.
  • From preplanned to flexible and ad hoc.
  • From components for wired and static applications to those designed for wireless and dynamic uses.
  • From demos done on specific platforms to demos performed on PODs.

The ultimate goal is to have the network become a force multiplier, significantly enhancing the combat potential of the combat force and improving mission success rates. Some areas of interest listed on the solicitation include:

  • Secure, dynamic, ad-hoc, adaptable, and programmable aerial mesh networks.
  • Network resource management.
  • Modularized/open architecture information links/networks/system.
  • IP communication networking.
  • Distribution and range extension.
  • High capacity backbone.
  • Network enabled weapons information links/network.
  • Command and control of directional networking.

Total funding for the project has been set at about $9.9 million, and several contracts are expected to be awarded.

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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