Tactical Communications

Air Force explores more efficient, jam-resistant data links

The Air Force is looking to make better use of the electromagnetic spectrum by using higher frequencies that allow clearer, better focused signals that are more resistant to jamming than currently used systems.

The service’s Materiel Command has issued a Request for Information asking for feedback on antennas, amplifiers and other technologies that would allow for directional tactical data links and networks that operate at higher frequencies. The Air Force also is seeking a level of waveform agility that would allow for signals to be adjusted when operating in crowded or contested spectrum environments.

Making more efficient, jam-resistant use of the spectrum is a priority for the Defense Department, as it becomes ever more reliant on it for communications and operations while preparing to cede 500 MHz of bandwidth for commercial use and deals with increasingly contested environments.

In directional networking, transmitters and/or receivers produce aperture gains—that is, an increase in power from a signal’s input to its output—that allow a greater amount of radiated energy to be focused on an intended receiver. That creates a narrower beam that reduces the chance of interference, and could increase network capacity, spectral efficiency and jam resistance while decreasing the chance it could be observed by passive threats, the RFI states.

The downsides of directional networking have included increased complexity, difficulty in establishing links between two aircraft and reestablishing links that have been lost. The Air Force is banking on advances in multi-element, multi-beam apertures that could make the process more efficient. The solicitation asks for information on the latest products and research and development in this field.

The technical areas the RFI is seeking information on include:

Antennas and power amplifiers: multiple antenna configurations (potentially including collections of omnidirectional apertures coupled with digital signal processing that can serve as lower cost alternatives to phased arrays), flexible pattern antennas, and packet-rate controllable transmit power.

Radios and modems: multi-band frequency hopping/agility, data rate & coding diversity, and multi-transceiver support.

Link and topology control: fault-tolerant distributed topology control and context controlled Automatic Repeat reQuest.

Network and system control: low overhead routing and network management, dynamic load balancing, flexible quality of service and admission control.

Multi-mission/multi-function RF subsystems: ability to reuse apertures, signal processing, and control to support multiple RF functions (e.g., comm, radar, EW)

System architecture: readily extensible & evolvable architecture, distributed fault-tolerant network interoperability, and synchronized operations across multiple missions.

Responses to the RFI are due by Dec. 12.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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