A communications system that is powerful enough to have seen military action in Afghanistan and versatile enough to have supported international humanitarian efforts also is small enough to be checked as airline baggage. The equipment supporting this capability includes an inflatable ball antenna combined with a flexible dish that comes in two sizes. The system is geared primarily toward short missions, but it can be used for months at a time or as a backup to larger systems when antennas need refurbishment.
The initial stages of the U.S. Army’s new tactical communications architecture are now operational. When it is complete, the network will connect units across all echelons with high-bandwidth voice, video and data streams. Many of the major components of this architecture are beginning to be fielded to units, providing forces with enhanced operational awareness and increased connectivity as the entire system goes online in coming years.
The U.S. Army is changing communications equipment faster than it can deploy forces equipped with that gear. The force benefits from improved networking capabilities, but this rapid technology insertion is changing the way communications battalions train and deploy.
Confusion is common in disaster relief operations. Destruction of infrastructure, inefficient coordination among participating organizations and lack of interoperability between communications systems contribute to the operational fog that surrounds first responders. Crisis management services help abate the confusion in such operations by providing interoperable equipment and software that can be deployed quickly for various scenarios.
Technology innovations and lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan are driving new directions in the U.S. Army’s communications road map. Because technology is changing capabilities so quickly—and because the need to equip combat forces in Southwest Asia is paramount—the Army is incorporating shorter decision cycles to measure progress as it speeds desperately needed capabilities to its warfighters.
Add spectrum management to the list of the U.S. military’s top priorities. Along with information sharing, interoperability and information security, ensuring that the latest communications and sensor systems have waves to ride on in the battlefield is now a hot topic at the highest levels at the Pentagon.
The Afghan army is transitioning to a system that will send and receive secure Internet protocol-based communications, a major step forward from its previous process of delivering written material via messenger.
An airborne networking system may soon provide warfighters with real-time battlefield data gathered from sensors and reconnaissance platforms across a theater of operations. A high-altitude unmanned aircraft serving as a flying information exchange will link to a constellation of low-altitude robot air vehicles, making this capability possible. Users will be able to access data from battlefield computers and ground terminals.
With a flip of a switch, a new tactical communications terminal enables warfighters to choose between troposcatter and satellite communications. This technology could reduce the demand on heavily saturated satellite bandwidth through its use of over-the-horizon radio transmissions to carry voice, data and real-time video imagery.
As debates and controversies continue to swirl about how to allocate the electromagnetic spectrum and how to improve interoperability among first responders, a plan has been proposed to solve part of both problems. The plan would place a specific portion of the spectrum under government control for public safety use. The caveat is that private industry would lease that space and build and maintain the network with the understanding that in an emergency, those private services would make way for public needs.
A telecommunications system that connects military and commercial radios and telephones into a single encrypted network is enabling warfighters and first responders to communicate securely with each other. Based on commercial technologies, the compact, portable solution establishes a cellular network that can support both military and disaster recovery operations.
More rapidly deployable, reliable, secure and capable communications systems are defining the next generation of communications gear for both the U.S. Defense Department and industry. One improved capability, which supports military contingencies as well as national emergencies, is based on a command and control package that incorporates everything over Internet protocol.
Technology initially deployed to help protect Iraq's citizens during the referendum of the country's first constitution is now increasing security for U.S. troop convoys traversing the dangerous roads of Southwest Asia. By expanding the use of Internet protocol technology, the U.S. Air Force has extended the range of line-of-sight radios, enlarging the view of the battlefield and giving commanders more real-time information. The capability not only is making troops safer on the road but also is moving some warfighters out of dangerous areas while freeing up assets that can now be used for the missions they were designed to support.
Binoculars may become the U.S. Navy's next tactical communications system. A prototype technology allows optical viewing systems to transmit voice, video and data communications on a beam of non-laser light. The equipment can be easily fitted to any commercially available binoculars and provides warfighters with a way to coordinate operations without relying on radios.
A deployable cell-phone-based system will allow coalition warfighters to communicate on the move without relying on vulnerable links to satellite groundstations. Designed for portability, the equipment can form self-healing tactical networks that connect automatically to other nodes and to satellite or landline systems. It relies on third-generation cellular waveforms that transmit live streaming video, provide reduced latency and increase bandwidth and security.
A new high-power commercial X-band communications satellite, designed to meet growing bandwidth demands, will help satiate the U.S. military's voracious appetite for space-based connections. Rapidly increasing satellite communications requirements are expected to continue outstripping government-owned satellite capacity for the foreseeable future.
An advanced microelectronics technology may allow future communications equipment to receive and process multiple high frequency waveforms easily. Relying on superconducting processors in a sealed refrigerated container, the system translates analog radio signals directly to digital information, preventing the data and efficiency losses found in semiconductor-based applications. Unconstrained by performance-limiting issues such as thermal interference, the frigid superconducting chips permit prototype devices to receive, sample and transmit gigahertz-range signals across much of the military's spectrum.
The Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite is designed for point-on-demand instant communications, providing protected worldwide command and control access within fractions of a second to U.S. and allied warfighters. This spacecraft is taking shape with substantial technical improvements-new phased array antennas, advanced integrated circuits, more efficient waveforms and novel space-based thrusters.
Technology advances have transformed a longstanding U.S. Army radio system into a new device that barely resembles its progenitor. Features such as position location and tactical internet access promise to change the way Army forces operate on the battlefield, and other improvements in the pipeline may change the nature of the communication system.
Members of the joint community are moving forward on proving that voice over Internet protocol can be a force multiplier. Although voice over Internet protocol is still in relative infancy, the Joint Communications Support Element, U.S. Joint Forces Command, has demonstrated through a series of exercises that this approach can increase both technological advances and bandwidth efficiency provided to the joint warfighter. It also decreases airlift requirements, reduces the number of needed personnel and cuts the cost of communications systems by moving from circuit-based to Internet-based networks.