Networking on the Move

April 2, 2010
By H. Mosher

Networking on the move is the newest capability coming to the warfighter, writes Linton Wells II in this month's Incoming column. He goes on to speculate what this might look like, but notes several challenges along the way.

Networking on the move is the wave of the future in the complex physical environments where ground forces operate. Such environments may be urban or rural, broad- maneuver battlefields or terrain around forward operating bases. As communications shift from circuit-switched to packet-switched, line-of-sight connections with one radio in a network can provide connectivity to all radios in a cluster. Unified capabilities-voice, video and data-along with more classified information are moving closer to the tactical edge. Future systems will be modular; reconfigurable to meet the changing needs of mission, enemy, troops, terrain and time (METT-T); and scalable to task and purpose. Future radios will be upgradeable as technology advances. And, radios increasingly will be agile enough to adapt spectrum use to local circumstances.

So what's not to like? Consider a few important challenges: weight and power, spectrum availability, satellite access, coalition interoperability and balancing the cost and capabilities of software-defined radios to user needs.

Wells expands on these challenges in the article, which you can read here. But it leads to an interesting question, one which we'd like to hear from SIGNAL readers on. How can industry rise to meet these challenges?

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In his INCOMING column, Linton Wells takes a pragmatic look at the current and future state of tactical ground communications. At Harris Corporation, we get the message loud and clear: Industry must accelerate innovation in this area on behalf of the warfighter.

We strongly contend that industry is making a difference. The cutting edge of radios today are powerful wideband networking devices, delivering advanced voice and high-bandwidth tactical Internet Protocol connectivity for improved situational awareness. These radios are also lighter and more portable than legacy units. Two prime examples are the Harris Falcon III AN/PRC-117G manpack and JTRS-approved Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C) handheld radios.

Guiding industry's hand in developing technologies are requirements that feed the acquisitions process. All too often, requirements for communications equipment reflect the best thinking at the time the contract was signed. But technologies evolve at lightning speed. Think back 10 years ago: Smart phones then were just a laboratory project. And yet today, we're watching streaming video from the palms of our hands.

Putting this into a tactical ground communications context, today's warfighter needs the ability to access streaming video feeds from overflying UAVs. These requirements didn't exist a decade ago, but like many emerging needs must be met by today's advanced tactical radios.

The cumbersome acquisitions process does not always get in the way of rapid innovation. The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program's Enterprise Business Model (EBM) was established to leverage the research, development and manufacturing efforts funded by the private sector. EBM was also aimed at speeding the delivery of JTRS-approved technology to the field. And it has hit the mark.

There are more than 100,000 Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C) tactical handheld radio systems currently in use around the world. At the same time, the AN/PRC-117G manpack is providing advanced networking capability to all branches of the U.S. Department of Defense and according to the U.S. Marines, it is "changing the way we fight."

From the fielding of these advanced radios, we are getting regular feedback from real-world situations. Forget about simulated testing environments-in-theater performance is the true test of effectiveness. What's more, these SDR radios-based on open standards-can rapidly add new capabilities, enabling industry to roll out solutions to emerging problems quickly.

We recognize that there will always be challenges-weight, power, size, and capabilities-and trade-offs. It is imperative, however, that the process by which new technologies are developed and fielded gives warfighters what they need today-and not simply promises of better solutions tomorrow.

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