DARPA extends wireless revolution

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Strategic Technology Office wants vendors and researchers to help it start a wireless revolution for battlefield tactical networks that goes beyond the mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) first proposed in 1997.

In a request for information released Dec. 7, DARPA said it wants proposals submitted for its next-generation wireless networking project. The proposals should address the development of 'revolutionary, paradigm-shifting wireless communication and networking concepts that enable scalable, high-performance, robust communications under high-tempo mobility and stringent size, weight and power constraints, while providing reliable end-to-end security.'

DARPA wants proposals that will help it develop tactical wireless networks that have little centralized control or infrastructure and limited or no reliance on aerial relay nodes with a throughput of greater than 300 kilobits/sec for a network with 200 nodes.

The Pentagon's think tank also wants suggestions for this revolutionary tactical network, which will ensure a 90 percent packet delivery rate to vehicular nodes moving at 60 mph within a mile range. Security is a must for this new network technology, the DARPA RFI states, with a low probability of interception.

DARPA said it issued its next-generation wireless RFI because although MANETs have been the focus of much attention and investment since the Internet Engineering Task Force put out its first draft MANET specifications in 1997, the concept for use in tactical networks has been a challenge.

Insufficient performance, excessive network overhead and significant security vulnerabilities have plagued DOD MANET deployments, DARPA said.

Stephen Orr, a consulting systems engineer at Cisco Systems, said he views the DARPA RFI as a challenge that DOD's adoption of IPv6 eases somewhat because of the technology's built-in rules for handling mobility.

DARPA could also benefit from work done by the international Ubiquitous IP-centric Government and Enterprise Next Generation Networks Vision 2010 project to develop MANETs, Orr said.

Meeting DARPA's requirements is not easy, especially in network security. Any next-generation tactical wireless network will need to include the ability to quickly authenticate users moving on and off the network and then encrypt their transmissions, Orr added.

Anyone answering the DARPA RFI will also need to devise a way to quickly establish ad hoc network physical layer connections wirelessly and develop a mechanism in which network users can identify and tap into network services, such as voice over IP, Orr said.

Responses to the RFI are due Feb. 12, 2007 and, despite the wide scope of the work, are limited to 10 pages.

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