Close Advertisement


Network and Comms Advances Serve a Connected Military

The military continues to enhance its next-gen communications and network gear—on land, in the air and in space. Challenges of scalability are being addressed by embedded solutions.


Keywords in this Article:

No Keywords

  • Page 1 of 1
    Bookmark and Share

Article Media


For more than a decade new the DoD has ramped up its efforts toward overhauling its networking and communications technology-advancing toward the goal of full interoperable operations. Although the term "network-centric operations" is less often voiced these days, that's mostly because it's become a given. Enhanced situational awareness and increased use of commercial technology is the focus of many of these technology development and funding activities. Defense communications technologies such as tactical radios and military satellite and network-centric communications are the key technologies driving this transition.

Both directly and indirectly the requirements of many of today's U.S. military platforms are involved in communications or networking critical information between warfighters. Net-centricity is a service-based architecture pattern for information sharing. Falling under the responsibility of the DoD's Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence (C4I) community, the ongoing plan is building joint architectures and roadmaps for integrating joint airborne networking capabilities with the evolving ground, maritime and space networks. It encompasses the development of technologies like gateways, waveforms, network management and information assurance. Feeding the needs of those systems are next-generation embedded computing solutions-in the form of single board computers, box-level systems and special-function subsystems-used to build sophisticated compute-intensive radio and network nodes-each suited for different environments, platforms and warfighter  users.

Communications a Priority

Despite this new era of tighter defense budgets many expect networking and comms related programs seem to survive reductions more than other segments. Part of that thinking is that in a reduced-sized military, the ability to do more situational awareness and reconnaissance becomes more of a priority when forces are smaller or in a less active mode. The systems span across all the branches, and include programs like the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite and Wideband Global Satellite (WGS). Airborne comms systems are playing a role too, with technologies such as Link-16. Other programs play closer to the user like Tactical Radios and the Warfighter Information Network - Tactical (WIN-T).

Among the major spaced-based DoD communications programs are the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF)-5, AEHF-6, Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO)-5 and GEO-6, and the upgraded GPS system: GPS III. Lockheed Martin's Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) system. AEHF will be a constellation of communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit that will replenish the existing EHF system MILSTAR satellite at a much higher capacity and data rate capability. It will provide 24-hour low, medium and extended data rate satellite connectivity from 65 N to 65 S latitude worldwide. AEHF-1, AEHF-2, and AEHF-3 (Figure 1) are in orbit and operational.

Figure 1
Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency system includes AEHF-1, AEHF-2, and AEHF-3 (shown) which are in orbit and operating—with AEHF-4’s launch planned for 2017.

Meanwhile the launch of AEHF-4 is planned for 2017; AEHF-5 and AEHF-6 are scheduled to replace AEHF-1 and AEHF-2 at the end of their useful life. The program's funding includes selected MILSATCOM Space Modernization Initiative (SMI) development activities which are focused on inserting new technologies to replace obsolete parts and materials and to improve capabilities.

Enhancing today's existing GPS-II system, the GPS III space vehicles will be fully backward compatible with legacy signals while delivering new capabilities and enhancements to include a new Galileo-compatible signal (civil), a more powerful M-code (military) signal, and the possibility to on-ramp future capabilities. The GPS Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) will enable operational use of all modernized GPS signals, as well as enabling improved PNT performance. The 2017 DoD budget request calls for completion of GPS III Space Vehicle (SV) 01 and 02 for available launch activities. It also funds the technology development and lead platform integration of Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) Increment 1.

WIN-T and Tactical Radios

The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) Systems segment of the DoD's comms/networking plans tends to have the most direct relevance to the embedded computing market. Developments and deployments are moving ahead for the Warfighter Information Network- Tactical (WIN-T), the Army's high speed, high capability backbone C4ISR network, linking Warfighters in the battlefield with the Global Information Grid. WIN-T program development consists of four increments. Increment 1 (Inc 1) provides "networking at the halt" by upgrading the Joint Network Node (JNN) satellite capability to access the Wideband Global Satellite. Increment 2 (Inc 2) provides networking on-the-move to the company level. Increment 3 (Inc 3) provides Integrated Network Operations development. General Micro Systems supplies the multi-domain boxes in several of all six of the WIN-T program's ground vehicles. Themis Computer also supplies systems to the WIN-T program which were on board a WIN-T vehicle on display at this year's AUSA 2016 show.

Among GMS's latest offerings designed to serve WIN-T requirements is the SB2002-SW "Blackhawk" switch/router. The system boasts 20 managed ports, 64 Gbytes of RAM, removable storage, Cisco routing software, and high-level security in compact seven-pound box. The Blackhawk server supports the Xeon D processor with hyper-threading for a total of up to 16 logical cores (32 threads) in a single SoC device-12 cores in the extended-temperature version. Each core operates at up to 2.5GHz and can turbo boost up to 3.1GHz. The product is part of product line of deployable, rugged, small form-factor server systems, based on the Intel Xeon D processor.

New WIN-T Inc 2 Capabilities

Earlier this month General Dynamics Mission Systems announced that new and improved versions of two key Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 capabilities have begun the test and evaluation process at U.S. Army installations across the country. Integrated on HMMWVs (Figure 2) instead of five-ton FMTVs, both the Tactical Communications Node-Lite (TCN-L) and the Network Operations and Security Center-Lite (NOSC-L) feature a greatly reduced footprint and improved transportability for expeditionary operations (C-130 roll-on/roll off and CH-47 sling loadable).

Figure 2
Improved versions of two key WIN-T Inc 2 systems are integrated on HMMWVs instead of five-ton FMTVs. Both the TCN-L and the NOSC-L feature a greatly reduced footprint and improved transportability.

The TCN-L and NOSC-L provide the same networking and network management capability to command posts while reducing the complexity to install, operate and maintain the Army's mobile tactical communications network. According to U.S. Army, the new capabilities provide a more agile network capability and greater expeditionary reach. And the smaller footprint will result in reduced maintenance and logistics costs-a crucial factor in today's resource-constrained environment.

Meanwhile in the tactical radio space-under the program name Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit (HMS)-asks for funding that is necessary to execute the required full and open competition contract strategy for the Rifleman Radio and the Manpack radios. The budget request conducts testing for the Manpack and the Rifleman candidate products to demonstrate compliance with program requirements to assess effectiveness, suitability, and survivability and to obtain material release for Full Rate Production. It funds support safety, spectrum supportability, and other certifications necessary to prepare the products for fielding. Funding is also including for the procurement of the Rifleman and the Manpack Radios, support equipment, fielding, non-recurring engineering, and platform vehicle integration.

Link 16 and MIDS JTRS

No discussion of military communications is complete without including Link 16 and MIDS and the transmission between the two. With a couple decades under its belt Link 16 was the first and is still today only communications data link that offers the interoperability and situational awareness required in all domains of the battlespace. Link 16 is established as the prime tactical data link for U.S. and NATO forces and has been implemented through a diverse family of terminals (JTIDS / MIDS / URC-138) meeting all requirements of a variety of users, In 1996 BAE Systems and Rockwell Collins formed a joint LLC called Data Link Solutions pursue the next generation Link 16 applications.

DLS supplies of Link 16 terminals and software, with more than 3,000 Link 16 systems delivered. It also provided MIDS terminals for more than 40 different platforms in 28 different countries. And DLS is leading efforts to develop and test of the next generation of software defined MIDS terminals: MIDS Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) (Figure 3). The MIDS JTRS is a networked communications system providing a single chassis, multiple-channel radio that significantly reduces the number of different and unique radios needed on the battlefield. The MIDS JTRS is a four-channel JTRS radio that includes Link 16 and Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) functionality.

Figure 3
The MIDS JTRS is a four-channel JTRS radio that includes Link 16 and Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) functionality.

DLS achieved a couple milestones in those efforts late last year. SPAWAR awarded DLS a contract to demonstrate the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) on the MIDS JTRS. The goal is to support the sharing of mission-critical data to further bridge the interoperability communications gap between fifth-generation stealth aircraft and fourth-generation fighter jets. The enhanced communications capabilities will allow fourth generation jets to receive more detailed information to improve situational awareness across the battlespace. The demonstration used a MADL data link on a MIDS JTRS transceiver communicating with a fifth-generation stealth fighter reference implementation. DLS was also awarded a $51.8 million contract from SPAWAR MIDS JTRS to U.S. and coalition forces. This award included radios for U.S. platforms and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers.

BAE Systems
Nashua, NH
603) 885-3653

Data Link Solutions
Wayne, NJ
(319) 295-4357

General Dynamics Mission Systems
Fairfax, VA
(877) 449-0600

General Micro Systems
Rancho Cucamonga, CA.
(909) 980-4863.

Lockheed Martin
Bethesda, MD
(301) 897-6000

Rockwell Collins
Cedar Rapids, IA
(319) 295-1000

Themis Computer
Fremont, CA.
(510) 252-0870.