Wireless networks getting pumped up

The military’s next generation high-speed, high-capacity wireless network technology is taking shape. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) today said BAE Systems will next spring field-test a suite of what’s known as ad-hoc wireless tactical network protocols that the company says improves wireless network performance five-fold over current practices.  

Under the first phase of the DARPA Control-Based Mobile Ad-Hoc Network program, or MANET, a BAE Systems-led team developed the protocols. The $5 million award for the program’s second phase will further develop and field-test these protocols which are ultimately designed to improve communications within and among forward-deployed military units. 

MANET technology does not require the inflexible base stations and towers typically used as hubs in the traditional paradigm. The technology allows for an open peer-to-peer architecture that supports dynamic network topologies that self-organize and self-heal to allow for maximum flexibility and fault tolerance, while drastically reducing cost, DARPA said. The DoD is currently focusing much of its wireless network research funding on advances in MANET technology to improve network reliability, security, and performance in high-activity environments.  

DARPA is looking to develop technology that facilitates scalable, high-performance, robust communications under high tempo mobility, diverse environmental conditions, and stringent size, weight, and power constraints, while providing reliable end-to-end security.   Regardless of the application, MANETs need efficient distributed algorithms to determine network organization, link scheduling, and routing, DARPA said. 

“This technology can allow forward-deployed mobile units to stay networked to each other and to command posts, despite connectivity variations due to terrain and other factors,” said Dr. Nils R. Sandell,, vice president of advanced information technologies for BAE Systems in a release.   

DARPA is developing a number of technologies for wireless tactical net-centric warfare. Among them:  

·  To connect different tactical ground, airborne and satellite communications terminals together, DARPA's Network Centric Radio System (NCRS) program developed a mobile, self-healing ad hoc network gateway approach that provides total radio/network compatibility on-the-move in any terrain - including the urban environment. NCRS has built interoperability into the network, rather than having to build it into each radio, so any radio can now be interoperable with any other. Today, using NCRS, previously incompatible tactical radios - military legacy, coalition, and first responder - can talk seamlessly among themselves and to more modern systems, including both military and commercial satellite systems.  

·  DARPA's neXt Generation (XG) Communications program has been developing technology to make ten times more spectrum available by taking advantage of spectrum that has been assigned but is not being used at a particular point in time. XG technology senses the spectrum environment in real time and then, in response, dynamically uses spectrum across frequency, space, and time - searching and then using spectrum that is not busy at the moment. XG is designed to resist jamming and not interfere with other users. XG was demonstrated to the House Armed Services Committee on January 29. 

·  Building on DARPA's XG and adaptive networking technologies, the Wireless Network after Next (WNaN) program is developing technology and architecture to enable an affordable and rapidly deployable communication system for the tactical edge. The low-cost, highly-capable radio developed by WNaN will provide the military with the capability to communicate with every Soldier and every device at all operational levels. WNaN networking technology will exploit high-volume, commercial components and manufacturing processes so that DoD can affordably and continuously evolve the capability over time. DARPA is working to put this affordable, tactical communications technology into the hands of the warfighter as soon as possible.  

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