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Battlefields networks from tip to tail.

Militaries are still asking for what they have always needed: reliable, versatile communications. Whether dealing with peace support operations and civil defence roles or linking with other militaries, non-governmental organisations and emergency services as well as the more traditional war-fighting role, the need is for a coherent and reliable connection.


To establish a single network with seamless connectivity between disparate battlefield units and to enable them to reachback to other users on the network, possibly anywhere on the globe--this is the goal of network centricity. However, evolving from today's basic interconnectivity base is a long-term prospect. The British route to Network Enabled Capability, for example, is defined in three stages: 'initial', a process lasting until 2007 and coinciding with the completion of the Bowman roll-out and delivering interconnections; Stage 2 or 'transitional', between 2007 and 2015, covering the integration of capability; and finally 'mature', from 2015 to around 2025, where effort will be placed on synchronising capability.

From the Bottom Up

The Battle Group and Brigade are becoming the nexus for battlefield communications, as high level and strategic communication management is being pushed down the chain of command while voice, data and even video capabilities are being afforded to dismounted soldiers.

These same dismounted soldiers are being brought into the network through the growing capabilities of their individual communications facilities. The Bowman Personal Role Radio (PRR) contract won by Marconi Mobile in 2001 with its 434 MHz UHF H4855 radio effectively brought this market to life. Other similar radios, such as the Tadiran Communication PNR-500 and the Saab SRR330, also enable users to form small networks within and amongst squads, sections and platoons--although today they are used almost exclusively as voice networks in the field. This equipment is certain, in the near future, to form the basis of data networks responsible for communicating low-level situational awareness across units. Data rates required for this role are relatively low--with an estimated 30 kbps requirement for many European solutions. However, the US is providing data rates similar to those required for battle management systems. The Land Warrior programme recently selected the EPLRSLight (Enhanced Position Location Reporting System) for the personal communications role. The EPLRSLight is capable of a 486 kbps data throughput.

At the Combat Net Radio (CNR) level the advent of software defined radios (SDR) is eliminating the physical separation and 'air gaps' between the existing networks. The multi-band, multimode radios that emerged in the 1990s, such as the AN/PRC-148 and AN/PRC-117, provided a similar capability but SDRs provide a more seamless link between bands and modes and offer many more waveforms and wider frequency bands. This is particularly true in the case of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), which will be the basis of the United States' tactical battlefield network from the next decade.

The initial versions of these radios will not replace their predecessors overnight but will form gateways between existing radios. The JTRS Cluster 1 effort led by Boeing, operates 23 waveforms, covering the spectrum and effectively enabling the air gap between the Army's Sincgars and EPLRS networks to be bridged.

Traditional combat net radio VHF subnets provide connectivity with limited data throughput, effectively limited to 64 kbps in frequency hopping mode and to just 9.6 kbps for HE Nonetheless, these radios will remain in frontline service for many years with programmes such as Bowman only now entering service. Current generation radios are also being updated with products such as the Thales PR4G evolution--F@stnet--beginning to reach troops. ITT also recently announced an award for further Sincgars acquisition by the Department of Defense, with a potential value of $ 2.5 billion.

In addition to these entry-level networks and capabilities, a number of countries are looking at adding a data backbone through the use of wideband networking radios like the ITT Mercury and the Raytheon EPLRS. The latter was selected to meet the British Bowman High Capacity Data Radio (HCDR) requirement which aims at linking clusters of VHF radios at distances of seven to--ten km and with throughput as high as 500 kbps.

Belgium is another country about to award an order for 60 radios, which will support the existing Bams VHF radios for brigade-level formations. An additional requirement for several hundred more is planned. Even Bulgaria has indulged in new acquisitions, having procured a number of BAE Systems VRC-99A radios.

Ad-hoc networking is now available. This enables users to move in and out of local networks seamlessly; this mobile, transitional 'network hopping' will also be a feature of future networks. General Dynamics UK describes the ad hoc networking protocol used in the HCDR backbone as proto-WIN-T. The Tadiran Communications PNR-500, for example, is a fully duplex hand-held device that is configured to enable synchronisation in the network, eliminating the need for centralised management from a base station and thereby allowing new users to easily enter the network.

Smart waveform technology is also being harnessed to simplify networks. The Wideband Networking Waveform, being developed under the Cluster 1 effort, allows users to switch band and modes according to the environment and battlefield circumstances.

Linking forward-deployed units to the wider network is the responsibility of tactical communications. As greater numbers of communications solutions are deployed at the lower levels a need for a greater capability for trunk communications is generated. The US Army, at one extreme, believes that each Unit of Action, or small brigade in today's part of traditional communications relays, satcom on the move and airborne relays. The British Falcon programme will enter service in a similar timeframe, but is less ambitious in the capabilities it offers. Nonetheless, both programmes will share key technologies including the use of Internet protocol for communications and a series of commercially sourced components.

In contrast to the big bang replacement of existing MSE (Mobile Subscriber Equipment) and Ptarmigan in the United States and in the United Kingdom, both France and Germany are pursuing an incremental route with the Thales Rita 2000 and Eads Autoko 90 upgrades. There is also a market for simpler and cheaper solutions. Kongsberg Defence Communications, for example, has had some success among the less advanced militaries with their EriTac product, which has been selected by Kuwait and Oman, and reportedly also Croatia and Romania.

Where Begins the Battlefield?

The Homeland Security market is fairly well established. However, in the world wide war on terror greater focus is being placed on improving civil/military cooperation at the network level.

The inclusion of the Apco-25 waveform, designed for public safety organisations such as the police and fire service, is among the 32 core waveforms initially planned for the JTRS library. The significance that the Department of Defense is placing on the need for the military and public safety bodies to work together can be seen by the JTRS Enhanced MBITR, developed by Thales Communications for the JTRS Cluster 2 radio--soon to be renamed the JTRS SOF Hand Held Radio.

While the APCO-25 waveform covers North America, co-operation outside the United States is still limited. To this end the Department of Defence and its Swedish counterpart are working on a 30-month programme developing an SCA-compliant Tetra waveform that can run on a Tetra handset. An agreement was to have been sealed by the end of 2004, but it is understood that information exchange issues are hampering progress. If the first part is completed however, there has been some discussion on the possibility of developing the Tetra waveform further to enable type 3 crypto interoperability on a similar basis to that being pursued with the Bowman VHF waveform.

Constructing a common network for the US military and other domestic first responders is being addressed in other ways. One example is the P25IP solution provided to the National Capital Region (NCR) around Washington DC by M/A-COM. The basis for the solution is linkage between the base radio systems at ten army sites using the 380 to 390 MHz APCO 25 waveform. In addition, by using the P25IP IP packet technology via its NetWork First interoperability gateways, over 60 civilian public safety organisations in the NCR can be made interoperable. Florida recently announced its decision to go ahead with a state-wide installation of the Motorola Motobridge IP solution to provide similar interoperability.

Enhancement of civil networks is also being seen elsewhere. Solutions such as that provided by Singapore Technologies Electronics Emergency Integrated Communications System provides a holistic network-centric approach to the public safety networks. Based on VoIP and RoIP, it has interfaces for a variety of analogue and digital trunked communications standards. These include Tetra, APCO25 and Tetrapol linked to national PSTN networks. This system has the capability to boost communications within a specific locality in response to emergencies and to quickly replace a communication infrastructure that may be impaired.

The need to interconnect with civilian networks has prompted recent additions to product lines. One such is the Harris RF6010 Tactical Network Access Hub. This networking device has interfaces for up to four CNRs and ties each one of them to a tactical switch. This rapidly connects the radios into a fixed infrastructure or a microwave backbone solution with up to four different tactical communication networks at the same time. Privately developed for the international market it has also gained interest from the US for Homeland Security applications.

Having to orientate military communication networks for use in the homeland role is not a new development for many countries. Countries focussing on territorial defence like Israel and Europe's neutrals (Finland, Sweden and Switzerland) have long integrated their national communication systems with their military requirements. Israel's Vered Harim or 'Mountain Rose' network became operational earlier this year. Developed by Motorola Israel it provides cellular Dimetra Tetra communications to the company commander and above level, which, through a national network provided in addition to CNR networks, effectively replaces existing field telephones. The Polycom network operates for Switzerland's police, fire fighters, border guard and civil defence forces. It is also the default network for the military. In Sweden, the nationwide Forsvarets Tele Nat Defence Telecommunications Network relies heavily on civilian networks and links disparate military area communications networks. In 2004 a consortium of Saab, Nokia and Swedia Networks' was awarded the first contract on the Rakel national Tetra network linking the armed forces with emergency services in a SEK 2.3 billion programme. Finland is currently embarked upon its Finnish Software Radio Programme (FSRP). Finnish concepts of operation in PSO and operations in Finland itself require the SDR to interoperate with the national Virve (Tetra) network. This is in addition to overseas Tetra networks, 3G and GSM networks in peace support operations.


Datalinks provide secure, jam resistant, high-capacity data communications across the battlefield and are key to linking air platforms to the ground environment. Link 16 is the key default solution for battlefield networks. It is, however, expensive and was designed first and foremost to be an airborne terminal. It is also heavy and not appropriate for a highly mobile environment. It is not suited to ad hoc, rather than pre-planned activities, and sending large amounts of data through this protocol has proved problematic. The packets have to be broken down into smaller chunks of data, which is inefficient and causes problems due to poor latency.

Due to the problems associated with Link 16, the US Air Force is pursuing its next generation datalink requirements through the TTNT programme. Any solution to its time sensitive targeting requirements must address the speed of the network and TTNT has a proven latency of less than two milliseconds. Rockwell Collins was downselected in 2001 as the prime for this Darpa-led programme. A below-two GHz waveform, its network has a throughput per user of 2.25 Mbps at 121 nautical miles, with an average ingress time for new entrants to its ad hoc network of three seconds. It also has a Simple Network Management Protocol update rate that averages less than three seconds throughout the network.

TTNT is one of several waveforms developed with scalability in mind. It is envisaged that a scaled-down version of the waveform could be received in a handheld device and could meet the requirements of the US Special Operation Command. TTNT is being looked at as a potential solution for the Battlefield Air Operations Special Operations Forces Tactical Network wideband network.

In addition to government funded programmes like TTNT, there are also privately funded solutions. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems recently released details of its Directional Network Waveform (DNW). This 15-GHz waveform uses 300 Mbps on each of its Space and Time Division Multiplexing datalinks, with a range of 250 nautical miles and four to six links per platform operating at any one time. The DNW offers a number of benefits over CDL, notably distributed antennas. This helps avoid platform blockages allowing communication through short duration occlusions caused by things like helicopter rotor blades or even some foliage.

No military is able to replace entire, existing systems or bridging capabilities as they stand today. A cost effective solution to current problems must, therefore, be found--one that exploits the technologies that are available.

Britain has adopted a number of quick solutions to improve the performance of networks. Alenia Marconi Systems has developed the time sensitive Alternative Messaging Service to enable messages for its Bric solution, a development of ADCIS with a Bowman HMI, to be routed through Bowmans more effectively. The Ground Recognised Air Picture solution provides a similar role. This consists of a Rockwell Collins Data Link Solutions AN/URC-138 JTIDS Low Volume Terminal (LVT) that can receive the LVT UHF LOS signal via a ground station. This picture is then sent to other air defence batteries via a 125 W Micom 2RS commercial HF solution, with a range of roughly 70 km. This provides air defence batteries with a timely air picture to which they would not otherwise have access.


As formations become smaller and more agile, the concept of linear battlefields and linear networks is falling away. This is made possible by the substitution of ground based microwave relays for Blos (Beyond Line Of Sight) satcom links. Whereas deployable trunk systems could keep up with relatively slow moving, traditional, conventional forces by leapfrogging, experience of the advance on Baghdad by US Forces found that the current MSE Tritac systems could not keep up. Furthermore, the resources required for force protection of this infrastructure posed considerable demands on manpower and were a potential target behind the front lines. Trunk communications in Iraq today are largely provided by a Lockheed Martin primed Coalition.

Lessons from Iraq served to reinforce the need for the BCOTM, as articulated in the Win-T requirement. Unlike MSE Tritac, Win-T will serve smaller groups each with its own local network made up of datalinks and JTRS radios. They will still receive the equivalent of today's trunk communications via more rapidly deployable ground infrastructure, but they will increasingly rely on both satcom and airborne relays to reach other units.

Events in Afghanistan also reinforced these lessons. Operations saw small groups of users in remote, mountainous areas needing access via Blos. In operation Enduring Freedom the 1st Brigade Task Force of the 82nd Airborne Division used a combination of 20 W Raytheon PRC-5 Spitfire and Harris AN-PRC-117 multi-band radios. These forces also reported that demand was such for single channel Tacsat (Tactical Satellite) communications, that the hand-held five-watt Thales Communications MBITR was used to support UHF Tacsat, where it became known as the 'Msat'. All three radios used the Viasat VDC-400 Data Controller card to transfer data.

To support the growing demand for satcom within future networks, the US Department of Defense is installing its own orbital network, with significant growth in capacity over today's systems. In the satcom world the next wave of improvements are in three key areas; Muos (Mobile User Objective System) in UHF Narrow band, AEHF (Advanced Extremely High Frequency) in protected secure Milsatcom and the Wideband Gapfiller System (WGS) for wideband communications. From 2010 MUOS will replace the current UFO (UHF Follow-On satellite system). It will offer overall satellite capacity of 4000 Kbps with a data rate of 64 Kbps--up from 400 Kbps and 19 Kbps respectively for its predecessor. In the EHF protected field, AEHE due in 2009, will provide a significant boost in capacity. This will be increased from 40 Mbps to 400 Mbps, with inter-satellite links up from 10 to 60 Mbps and the number of beams increasing from 16 to 37. In the X and Ka wideband arena the WGS will see roughly a ten-fold improvement ratio in performance between today's DCSC III Slep and the WGS in 2006, with capacity rising from 250 Mbps to 2.2 Gbps and beams increasing to 19 from today's 5.

Supplementing these solutions will be the next generation Transformational Satellite, or Tsat, due to enter service within the next decade. This will provide an RF capacity of three Gbps, an ISR feed of six Gbps and laser-based crossband links of 20 Gbps with over 90 beams.

The chance that satcom will be sent via a commercial satellite is also growing. A report on the US Department of Defense's usage in Operation Iraqi Freedom showed that 82 per cent of satcom throughput was via civilian owned satellites. This ranged from communications back to the US to Blue Force Tracking modules issued throughout the coalition, which used L-Band Comtech solutions. During the operation the 4th Mechanized Division--the US Army's First Digitised Division only had two of its three manoeuvre brigades equipped with the EPLRS network, which communicated the BFT element of FBCB2. The third brigade was instead rather hurriedly equipped with the satcom-based BFT solution. In the event this expedited BLOS solution was considered to have performed better than the original.

The commercialisation of military satcom goes further with Britain's Skynet 5 solution provided by Paradigm. This is a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) valued at 2.9 billion [pounds sterling] and has already provided military-grade secure communications to launch export customer Portugal. Other new satellites in Europe are providing similar opportunities. The French Syracuse III satellite, developed by Alcatel Space, will provide a 10 to 100 times enhancement to data throughput for SHF and EHF payloads. A second commercial X-band satellite solution, the new Xtar, has been launched between Loral and Hidesat in Spain. It offers two X-band satellites to government customers.

Commercial Technologies

To deliver the network throughput necessary for the voice, data and video requirements of the defence community, much of the information will be routed through commercial networks and with equipment built on commercial off-the-shelf components. For example, every Bowman radio houses a Cisco router. However, this commercialisation is starting to go deeper, beyond just components. In the Netherlands, for example, the same training plan as that found at a Cisco Academy was adopted for the Titaan programme at the RNLA Signals Training School.

Boa and Overviews

With the key to battlefield networks being integration, militaries are drawing these capabilities together within a coherent whole. Several national plans have been articulated.

France's Bulle Operationnelle Aeroterrestre (Boa) or 'air-land operational bubble' will provide a hermetic seal of connectivity within which operations will take place. Thales is leading development of the Boa with a team that includes Giat, Sagem, MBDA, Eads and Dassault.

Israel too has adopted a holistic solution for its battlefield network. Within the Digitisation of the Army Programme its land digitisation programme is based around a Battalion Combat Team. This team uses IP addressing through which every platform from the soldier to IFVs, MBTs and helicopters will use a common family of applications.

Unlike its other service counterparts. the US Army has been slower to vocalise its comprehensive communications vision. Its LandWarnet concept, publicly launched in October, places all the services' communications assets into a single context, which in turn is part of the Global Information Grid. The most ambitious concept looks at linking desktops in the Pentagon with soldiers on hand-held radios, within a coherent interoperable whole. This idea eliminates the notion of many networks and replaces it with a meta-network on the battlefield and beyond.

Parity Bit

The communications glue that connects, and crucially is resilient enough to retain that connection, is at the heart of network-centric warfare. Without it, a continuation of platform-centric warfare would remain the only option. Realising these ambitious goals is an ongoing and incremental process, inevitably dominated by the United States, but pursued by others who are often innovating rather than spending around a problem.
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Title Annotation:Communication
Author:Baddeley, Adam
Publication:Armada International
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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