Sometime soon, swarms of autonomous robots may help battlefield communications networks stay up and running even in the most challenging battlefield environments. Each individual machine is a mobile communications node. When grouped together, these smart relays will automatically form a network and realign themselves to maintain links in the face of jamming, radio interference or complex, radio-unfriendly terrain such as buildings.
The U.S. Army is pushing the network to the tactical edge in a viable way with the development of a new radio. The communications tool will enable individual soldiers to connect more efficiently among each other and with higher levels of leadership, employing a technology that allows troops to pass messages even without line of sight. Mass production of the core parts makes the radios affordable, and use of controlled but unclassified communications makes them applicable for uncleared personnel in infantry units.
Existing X-band commercial communications satellites with fundamental high power and bandwidth advantages enable communications-on-the-move dexterity. Spacecraft advances and state-of-the-art tracking technology with small but stable antennas facilitate a wide variety of high-data-rate communications for mobile military missions encompassing land, sea and air.
Sure and steady progress in communications in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has dramatically sped up the pace of coalition combat, security, governance and development operations throughout the country. Since 2001, telecommunications capabilities have leapt from the Stone Age into the 21st century, and military networks have been taught to talk to each other. From the tactical perspective, this progress is increasing shared situational awareness and boosting collaboration among nations.
New tactical communications technologies are giving U.S. forces in Iraq tremendous capabilities that are essential to the new warfighting doctrine that has been implemented. But in turn, these capabilities are generating a wish list for communicators as they try to extend their reach to those who need them the most.
Armed forces around the world soon may deploy an integrated family of communications intelligence and electronic warfare systems. Designed for export, the hardware and software supports land and sea forces, as well as national intelligence services, by sharing data across all echelons from the tactical level up to national-level organizations. Parts of the system already are in service with the French army.
The U.S. Central Command is juggling new technologies with new missions amid joint and coalition environments as it fights adversaries that change tactics quicker than the command can upgrade equipment. Many of the command’s communication and information system requirements mirror those of other U.S. commands. However, the acid test of combat is highlighting capabilities and drawbacks of many new tactical systems in ways that could change long-range planning for defensewide communications.
The U.S. Air Force is preparing to release a new version of a system designed to improve the service’s interoperability with joint, allied and coalition command and control systems. For the Air Force to accomplish its mission and support joint and coalition operations, it needs to include the capabilities of the new version in a network-centric, information-sharing environment. The system will provide a consolidated environment for planners at all command levels to access and influence force projection data.
The first phase of the U.S. Army’s ambitious modernization program is preparing to enter service. The multi-billion dollar effort seeks to transform the Army into a network-centric force with advanced vehicles and precision weapons. Initial low-rate production and operational testing of selected equipment and software are underway after years of development and cost issues.
The U.S. Army has networked the battlefield, providing troops with the first digital systems they actually wear. Capabilities formerly reserved exclusively for use on vehicles are now available at the individual level, altering how warfighters manage combat operations. This cutting-edge technology improves situational awareness and interoperability as well as command and control.