SPAWAR builds backbone to shore up lines of communication

SPAWAR builds backbone to shore up lines of communication

The Navy's three-tier architecture reflects the range of data communications it expects from SPAWAR's High-Data-Rate Line-of-Sight Wireless Communications projects.

By Kevin McCaney

GCN Staff

The Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command is developing a low-cost backbone for line-of-sight radio communications using land, sea and satellite links in an effort to provide interoperable wideband communications.

The project, High-Data-Rate Line-of-Sight Wireless Communications, falls within the Joint Tactical Radio System initiative and illustrates both the challenges and the goals of JTRS.

It is being designed to provide reliable, secure, ship-to-ship-to-shore-to-air communciations, spanning a wide range of radio frequencies and distributing voice, data and video among ships, submarines, aircraft, land vehicles and satellites.

HDR LOS calls for implementing a mobile radio-frequency network with backbone links supporting variable data rates ranging from 64 Kbps to 4.6 Mbps, with the ability to adjust the bandwidth to maintain the maximum reliable data rate at any distance. In the process, SPAWAR is seeking to overcome some of the difficulties that have always plagued field communications.

The problems facing development of an interoperable system start with the incompatible radio systems scattered throughout the military.

'We all buy our own radios for given missions,' said Richard North, the HDR LOS project manager at the SPAWAR Systems Center in San Diego. And those systems don't work together.

Another factor is the disparity of vehicles involved in military operations and the varying distances between them.

'Some platforms move fast, some don't,' North said.

For example, a land vehicle could be moving slowly up and down over rough terrain, in contrast with a ship steaming away from the coast. Add in aircraft and a satellite, and the puzzle becomes more difficult. he said.

The physical and technical hurdles don't preclude communications, but they have limited them. 'We have all kinds of point-to-point systems,' said Lt. Cmdr. Howard Pace, who leads the radio frequency networking efforts for JTRS. But the military has not been able to network those systems.

'What we want to do is develop the ability for superior information knowledge in the battlefield'know where the enemy is and where he is not,' Pace said.

For that, the military needs fast, reliable communications that will reach all points. 'And that's not going to happen with point-to-point links,' he said.

JTRS is working to develop software-programmable, scalable radios that will operate at frequencies from 2 MHz to 2 GHz. The waveform itself hasn't yet been defined. 'It may be its own waveform with its own chunk of the spectrum,' Pace said, but that decision will come in the third part of the project.

Know what you want

The first step was to define the technical specifications, Pace said. In the second step, JTRS will award a contract'expected later this month'for developing the technical architecture according to those specifications and, later, select a vendor to build the radios according to the architectural design. After that, JTRS will define the wideband waveform.

JTRS plans to gradually replace the thousands of incompatible radio systems within the Defense Department with the wideband radios, which would pay off not only in interoperability but in lifecycle savings, Pace said.

Though deployment of new radios won't be cheap'DOD has estimated the JTRS program could cost $9 billion'SPAWAR officials say the implementation will save money. One way will be by eliminating duplications. For example, a battleship might have an ultra-high-frequency satellite link, a lower-frequency UHF link to another ship and a very-high-frequency link to land.

The three radios could require separate technicians, three sets of parts supplies and three sets of servicing requirements. JTRS would replace the three radios with one, which would bring an equal reduction in support costs.

Joint effort

Combining the HDR LOS program with medium-data-rate, beyond-line-of-sight high-frequency links and satellite communications would have other benefits, SPAWAR officials said.

Among them: reducing the time and cost of such things as tasking orders and brief-ings; providing an infrastructure for telemedicine, remote maintenance and distance learning; and reducing a satellite communications bottleneck.

Like other communications efforts within DOD, the primary goal is interoperability and eventually departmentwide deployment. JTRS, in a way, extends other efforts such as the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century and the Army's Force XXI initiatives.

'There have been first steps, like IT-21'it was a masterpiece. Really ahead of its time,' Pace said. 'These are our first baby steps toward how we are going to do this.'

The bottom line is being able to exchange information freely, quickly and securely in the battlefield, Pace said, and JTRS would take a big step in that direction.

'This is what communications technology should be; what we always wanted it to be,' he said.

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