Move over, fortune tellers and psychics—scientist seers hear the future loud and clear.
Nanograss is a special silicon surface that resembles a lawn of evenly cut grass, with individual "blades" only nanometers in size. Researchers are developing nanotechnologies that will enable a variety of next-generation communications capabilities.
The minds of the world who are creating the future’s communications technology already know what to expect in the next generation—tools that are smaller, more powerful and more flexible yet less expensive. These experimenters also know that current bandwidth problems have to be a focus area for future operations. Research and development is already underway on everything from nanomolecules to intercontinental systems that will incorporate those features that troops need most. At the same time, military members can expect brand new capabilities and better security as well.
Scientists and engineers are working on a range of projects to meet the needs of troops in times ahead. At LGS Innovations, researchers are preparing technologies that could roll out in 10 years and others that are 20 years or longer away. One major focus area is the need to work around limited bandwidth problems. In the Bell Labs Layered Space-Time (BLAST) project, LGS engineers are increasing the amount of data transmitted over the spectrum. Already they have demonstrated speeds of 50 bits per second per hertz. “That’s pretty extraordinary because spectrum is pretty precious,” says Dave Bishop, chief technology officer and chief operating officer at LGS. Spectrum also is expensive. “Getting more capacity through the spectrum for free turns a necessity into a virtue,” he adds.
BLAST employs multiple transmitting and multiple receiving with specific algorithms to code and decode messages to make multipath communications advantageous. Bishop believes this will have a major impact on military communications. Soldiers have used voice-centric communications for years, but now and in the future they need the same broadband access many citizens have in their homes. The access would allow troops to obtain maps, videos and other forms of information critical to battlefield success. To make those capabilities a reality, the military needs to solve the problem of moving large amounts of information over limited spectrum.
Antennas are another area of next-generation communications technology under development at LGS. The organization is working with nanotechnologies and metamaterials to create electronically large but physically small antennas. The experimental materials enable the shrinkage of large antennas required with specific radio frequencies.
LGS personnel also are examining pixelated antennas. Instead of having to change antennas to receive different frequencies, the researchers are developing pixels that can pick up the different wavelengths. The result is similar to a programmable antenna that can be set for various frequencies. This development is especially relevant to transportation platforms such as aircraft and tanks that require multiple receivers and transmitters to carry out their missions. With the pixilated antenna they would only need one device to carry out operations that currently require multiple devices.
Pixelated antennas also benefit platforms with no flat surfaces such as stealth aircraft, which are designed to prevent detection by radar. The pixilated device can operate on a curved surface by using software to adjust the phase of the pixels. With current technologies, bending the metal prevents an antenna from working, but users can program pixels to take out the curvature factor. Users also can program the pixilated antenna to operate dynamically by adjusting the phase relationships. The antenna will be sensitive to radio frequencies for particular directions and will transmit in specific directions basically performing the same tasks as phased array radars. Troops could send messages forward or backward and have better receiving signal noise for the same battery power as current technology allows.
Another way to advance antenna technology in the future is through reduced detectability. Researchers are working to hide the devices from the naked eye and other forms of detection. That advancement will prevent the enemy from locating a convoy, picking out the vehicle with the antenna and attacking it first. One method of protection is a plastic armor that is radio frequency transparent but camouflages the identity of the command vehicle. The material would be made from nanotechnology composites that are moldable and have multishock capabilities.
Aside from antennas, LGS is looking to make other communications more flexible as well. Researchers are moving away from multiformat tenability and fixed performance to thinking about a soft radio. Bishop shares that the thrust behind the development is to create the radio equivalent of a computer resulting in a general purpose radio frequency platform. Instead of requiring 12 radios to perform 12 applications, one radio would do everything—just as a computer runs multiple applications, not only word processing. Building only one hardware platform also would increase volume and reduce cost. The flexibility is being made possible through continued development of nanotechnology, and those same developments are affecting radio frequency and optical systems too.
Filters, capacitors, conductors and other devices are being made tunable as well. Rather than have 50 lasers to address 50 wavelengths, the beyond-cutting-edge technology is enabling the creation of one tunable laser. Bishop shares that next-generation communications technology will require increased levels of functionality and smaller sizes and weight for the same amount of power. To reach those goals, scientists are performing experiments with algorithms and nanotechnology of tunable components.
|The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working on a program called the Dynamic Quarantine of Computer-Based Worms that will provide network-based solutions for unmanned aerial systems such as this Predator.|
Enemies also can use distributed denial of service attacks to prevent authorized users from obtaining information they need. If the cyberattackers are unable to put in an active malicious code, they can simply send millions of messages that take too long to filter. “We have to think of security in that kind of world,” Bishop says. “We have to create software agents where you start to think about defending and creating security solutions out in the network instead of waiting for it to get to your front door.”
Future cybersecurity is going to be cyberwarfare, taking the battle into the network to deal with security problems. The issue is daunting, because viruses and malware are being produced at explosive rates. Bishop estimates that more than 90 percent of all e-mail is spam. “The Web is worse than the wild, wild West in terms of what’s out there,” he shares. “At the rate things are going, we may lose the ability to have a networked world unless we develop tools for much better security.”
Protection will be increasingly critical as computers become more powerful. LGS scientists are working on a quantum computer that can factor large numbers orders of magnitude faster than a classic computer. The computer will be especially relevant for encryption work. If personnel receive a data stream and can multiply it by a number with a key, they can find the code to decrypt the message. However, without the key the mathematics becomes almost computationally impossible, eliminating the chance to decode the message on a relevant time scale.
The quantum computer would allow personnel to factor more quickly to find the answer in a usable time frame. By encoding with the quantum computer, military troops could basically eliminate the chance of an enemy decoding a message. By using parallel computing methods, the quantum computer performs faster than current technologies.
The U.S. Defense Department also is examining a next-generation technology that will offer increased service speed and answers to bandwidth problems. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has an effort known as the Dynamic Multi-Terabit Core Optical Networks: Architectures, Protocols, Control and Management (CORONET) program that will create a network scalable to a much higher level than current throughput, but not at a proportionate increase in cost, size or power consumption. The increase in throughput will enable a speed of 100 terabits per second on a large, global-scale network.
CORONET would enable applications not feasible today for technical and particularly economic reasons. These applications include: high-quality, multidisplay videoconferencing over the Internet; real-time, bandwidth-intensive, network-centric, collaborative applications involving people, computing resources, storage resources, sensors and high-quality display devices distributed over national or global distances; distributed- or grid-computing applications performing intensive computations using multiple computers distributed around the network; e-science applications allowing an expensive experimental resource to be shared and controlled by various researchers across the globe; and high-definition television video- and movie-on-demand services over the Internet. “In all of these applications, the dynamic nature of the CORONET network, where the user accesses the bandwidth virtually immediately when needed, then releases the bandwidth when done, is fundamental in guaranteeing cost effectiveness because of sharing of the network resources,” Dr. Adel Saleh, CORONET program manager, says. “Without dynamic networking, which is not available with today’s networks, the cost of many of these services would be prohibitive.”
The key according to Saleh is the word “dynamic” in the program’s name because it allows the network to be configured. The main purpose is to share resources on the network, but if people hog an allocated amount of bandwidth whether or not they actively employ it, the network becomes more expensive. With bandwidth on demand, users release the resources for use by someone else, reducing the cost per customer.
Dynamic networks also speed recovery time for damage in a network because they reconfigure to work around any errors. Most networks today are at least quasi-static, so DARPA researchers are studying how to change the configurations of the networks. Because civilian and military networks today already work well, DARPA does not need to create an entirely new network. “The idea here is I want to scale the network up with 10 times throughput without spending 10 times the money,” Saleh explains. The network control management that will come out of CORONET will be applicable to technologies of today and tomorrow. “We observe and influence the hardware being developed,” Saleh says.
Along with increasing throughput, reducing cost and service time is a major focus of the CORONET program. In today’s large networks, operations are a huge cost, and it takes a long time and a lot of money to provide bandwidth to users when they request it. CORONET aims to supply users with what they need as soon as possible at an affordable price. The program reverses the trend of network operations becoming more expensive as they improve.
To reduce cost in the Defense Department for a program such as CORONET, the military works to transition the technology to commercial carriers. Many of the features are applicable to the private sector, and increasing user numbers reduces cost. “Economy goes hand-in-hand with growing a network,” Saleh says.
CORONET also offers increased security and robustness to networks. Security is critical for military and commercial users, but robustness is especially important for the military because of the ever-growing importance of network-centricity. Robustness helps prevent the network from failing and helps it recover quickly when it does.
Saleh believes that the potential benefits of CORONET are not just part of his own program, but a part of the larger trend in next-generation technology. The Internet doubles about every two years, meaning that in 15-20 years the network will grow to 1,000 times its current size.
Another next-generation technology project underway at DARPA also deals with increased security and dynamic solutions. The Dynamic Quarantine of Computer-Based Worm Attacks (DQW) program will combat malicious code attacks. While the technical details are classified, Lt. Col. Michael VanPutte,
The DQW is not another tool suite for Defense Department administrators to learn. Rather, it should be totally integrated into the Defense Department tool suite and will not require independent installation.
The DQW is being developed in response to the evolution of multiple types of unique worms. Current commercial solutions use two methods to counter worm attacks: signature based and anomaly based. “With signature based, if a new worm comes, the system won’t be able to respond appropriately,” Col. VanPutte says. That problem has afflicted the Defense Department since about 2002. Anomaly-based security also has failings because of the dynamic nature of Defense Department networks. “Those changes affect a malware system and cause false positives,” the lieutenant colonel shares.
The DQW system, on the other hand, will not have the same standard response for all threats. The system will employ artificial intelligence to identify the attack and to respond appropriately. It will be fully automated and eliminate the worm without human intervention. In addition, the DQW is developing defenses against cyberattacks on mobile ad hoc network systems that can sense failures and attacks and auto-recover in real time.
The DQW system, similar to many next-generation technologies, is geared toward protecting resources in the network-centric environment. Col. VanPutte explains that the military does not have the same security capabilities for network-centric systems as it does for stovepipe systems. Resources such as unmanned vehicles require a network-based solution that a component of the DQW can provide.
Dynamic Multi-Terabit Core Optical Networks: Architectures, Protocols, Control and Management: www.darpa.mil/sto/strategic/coronet.html
Dynamic Quarantine of Computer-Based Worm Attacks: www.darpa.mil/sto/ia/dqw.html
LGS Innovations: www.lgsinnovations.com