Wireless technology sought or urban, subterranean ops.
Under the Applied Communications and Information Networking (ACIN) program, the Army is demonstrating wireless communications and networking technologies that both have military mad commercial applications. The goal is to help lower the cost of military systems, officials said.
Now in the third phase of the prototyping effort, ACIN program researchers are evaluating a half-dozen promising advances in information technology.
In ACIN Phase I, engineers demonstrated a wireless "tooth mike" for dear, hands-free communications in high-noise environments. Clipped to the user's premolar, the intra-oral bone conduction microphone reduced the 110 dB(a) background noise of an M1A1 tank by 30 to 40 dB(a) to transmit clear speech for other soldiers or automatic speech recognition systems.
The technology now is being used by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in an advanced speech encoding effort and has interested the U.S. Special Operations Command. It also has potential commercial applications in construction, mining and airport operations.
The Army Communications and Electronics Command (CECOM) at Fort Monmouth, N.J., manages the program. Drexel University, in Philadelphia, is under contract to apply emerging information technologies to military requirements. The Drexel Center for Telecommunications and Information Networking educates Department of Defense acquisition managers in dual-use technologies.
Sarnoff Corporation, of West Windsor, N.J., is Drexel's subcontractor and provides the principal investigators for most of the technology demonstrations. In addition, Drexel manages a technology center in Camdem, N.J., to nurture information technology startup businesses.
ACIN is funded through 2009. Contracts with Sarnoff Corp. provided $6 million in Phase I, $3 million in Phase II and $6.4 million in Phase Ill. Each stand-alone phase aims to produce "brassboard" prototypes within 12 months.
"It's kind of like a new ballgame every year we get into this program," says John Bojarski, the Army's ACIN program director and a senior project leader at Fort Monmouth's Communications and Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center.
CERDEC generates a master list of military information technology needs, and ACIN researchers talk to field operators to identify critical issues. The process is different from the formal requirements analysis usually conducted in Defense Department projects. ACIN researchers talk directly to users as well as the usual development hierarchy. According to Sarnoff ACIN program director John Riganati, "You often get a very different picture of what the needs are in operational use." Experience in the cave complexes of Afghanistan, for example, launched the current effort in subterranean and urban communications.
Selection of ACIN tasks is negotiated by Army and ACIN program managers. The decisions are based on whether the specific tasks satisfy both Army requirements and a commercial application relevant to industry needs.
Researchers are seeking to meet military and commercial needs with current technologies. "This is not a research program," explains Riganati. "We're looking for things that exist, could shortly exist or could be stacked together to exist." He notes that high-volume commercial electronics typically satisfy 80 percent of military requirements at just 20 percent of the cost of military qualified components.
In the first year of ACIN, Sarnoff engineers used commercial-off-the-shelf components to build a Ka-band satellite receiver for less than $500. In the second year, they produced an inexpensive two-way transmitter-receiver able to link a satellite with a ground vehicle at rest. Third-year plans call for Ka-band SATCOM on-the-move demonstrations in March or April 2004.
Ka-band communications satellites already have been launched by commercial operators in Europe and Asia. The rapidly evolving technology promises military users ground terminals with around 10 times the data capacity at one-tenth of the cost of common military SATCOM systems.
High-bandwidth ground vehicle terminals that function on the move are especially attractive to rapid deployment forces.
Successful ACIN demonstrations may justify follow-on investments that transition technologies to production. Military program managers routinely attend progress reviews to keep pace with developments, says Bojarski. "When we get to the end of these programs, the PM knows what we're doing. He decides whether to transition."
At the end of each phase of the ACIN project, if the PM determines that the equipment fills a "hole" in the Future Combat Systems or other Army programs, says Bojarski, it is transitioned to the appropriate user. "If the technology proves to be yet too immature or not functioning to expectation, the effort is discarded and other emerging technologies are investigated in the subsequent phases of ACIN."
The need for assured communications in subterranean and urban environments that limit radio signal propagation drives Phase III work in ad-hoc networking. Unlike conventional cell phone networks with fixed relay towers, self-composing, self-healing ad-hoc networks use their individual nodes maintain communications without dedicated base stations. An ad-hoc network can configure itself and reconfigure itself if individual nodes are moved, destroyed or captured.
In tunnels, buildings or urban areas, ad-hoc networks of "breadcrumb" nodes dropped along the way could link advancing soldiers with one another and with external command systems. Alternatively; networked sensors could watch dangerous cave complexes or city streets. The same technology could help commercial users monitor pipelines and other industrial facilities. "Everything we're working on is absolutely guaranteed to have a military component and a commercial component," notes Riganati.
Last February, ACIN engineers used commercial Bluetooth wireless network protocols to build an ad-hoc network of 50 prototype sensors distributed throughout the Sarnoff Corp. building. A central display shows where the nodes are and how the signal links are constructed.
To minimize probability of signal detection or interception, the power-efficient sensors do not transmit unless interrogated by the network. High-quality commercial encryption technology protects the data, and captured or "rogue" nodes can be shut out of the network. The Bluetooth low-power radio frequency link carries 700 kilobits per second data rate and reaches about 300 miles between sensors. It works in conjunction with a higher capacity ad-hoc network built around the more costly but still commercial IEEE 802-11B architecture.
Network engineers designed the prototype sensors with a round form-factor to fit Volcano airborne or vehicle mine dispensers. Each sensor contains temperature, seismic, and acoustic transducers with a Global Positioning System receiver. TV cameras, infrared intrusion detectors, and other sensors can be interfaced with individual nodes.
ACIN Phase III calls for outdoor network demonstrations, with an eye to the Future Combat System unattended ground sensor requirement. Cave demonstrations at Fort Benning, Ga., are expected in February or March 2004.
The ad hoc sensors have already flown on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in an experiment at Wright-Paterson Air Force Base, Ohio, earlier this year. ACIN researchers provided seven light-weight, battery-powered nodes: two flown on rotary-wing UAV's and five deployed on the ground. The ground nodes detected events aid signaled GPS locations. The UAV used the GPS data to go to the site and take pictures.
Mobile networks create greater demands for secure, complete information. Drexel University researchers are working on information assurance and networking integrity software. In earlier efforts, Sarnoff engineers developed an access control toolkit that enabled users with contact-less smart cards to use computers.
The same technology could provide different access levels in buildings or in areas protected by ad hoc sensor networks. Security software with user profiles may someday enable ad hoc networks to tailor information to the needs of individual operators.
ACIN Phase III also examines the potential of COTS technology in other promising areas, such as ultra wideband communications. Now that the Federal Communications Commission has cleared ultra wideband communications for indoor applications, Sarnoff engineers are characterizing the low-power, high-capacity components for short-range military communications in subterranean and urban warfare environments. Their experiments are to provide CECOM with recommendations for production applications.
High dynamic range receivers with wide-band gap transistors using SiC MESFET and AlGaN/GAN HEMT technology promise high power, low-noise amplifiers with high dynamic range and no cooling requirements. "There's no question in our minds chat they're going to produce a revolution in the way systems are built," says Riganati.
The technology may make it possible to integrate powerful radars and sensitive receivers side-by-side without interference aboard Navy ships. ACIN Phase III calls for the demonstration of amplifiers, mixers and oscillators, and for production manufacturing designs.
Commercial cell phone base stations have technology relevant to the software-defined radios sought under the Defense Department's Joint Tactical Radio System. ACIN engineers are looking to demonstrate low-cost consumer components in subsystems that meet JTRS requirements.
Drexel University performs ACIN simulation studies and other research and development tasks. The school also conducts workshops and seminars for Defense Department personnel on network-centric technology and applications. ACIN also provides facilities and business development support in a small-company technology incubator to help revitalize a blighted New Jersey city.
The Camden Center for Entrepreneurship in Technology now hosts 14 companies ranging in size from one to 12 people. The small businesses hold a range of Pentagon and NASA contracts. Drexel University helps start-up companies seeking defense work. Larger contractors are encouraged to hire smaller companies as subcontractors. Local congressional representatives have secured around $20 million for the area over the first three ACIN phases. "Hopefully, the incubator companies will grow and establish larger facilities in the Camden area," says Bojarski.