Air Force evaluating high-frequency, focused mobile networks

Air Force says directional networks have high power potential, drawbacks


The Air Force this week said it was looking into the technologies like advanced antennae and amplifiers it would take to build high frequency, directional mobile networks.

The idea is to develop networks that can be focused point to point to make more efficient use of higher bandwidth – over 500Mhz –which could make such nets less prone to interference and jamming while at the same time increase capacity.

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In its Request For Information, the Air Force said this so-called directional networking would focus a greater amount of radiated energy on an intended receiver through a combination of transmitter and/or receiver aperture improvement.

“The increased signal to interference-plus-noise ratio improves jam resistance from intended or unintended interferers and increases the potential capacity of the link. Additionally, if one considers noise and interference at receivers other than the intended receiver, narrower transmit beams reduce signal to interference-plus-noise ratio to receivers outside the transmit beam, thus potentially increasing network capacity, spectral efficiency, and reducing observability by passive threats outside the radiated energy pattern,” the Air Force stated.

 The downside to such directional networking however suggests the pointing, acquisition and tracking required to maintain a network of directional links adds complexity over omnidirectional systems.

 “Initial link establishment between two aircraft may be difficult when their relative positions are not known to one another and additional challenges exist when re-establishment of a directional link is required once that link has been lost. With advances in multi-element multi-beam apertures, the switching from one transmitter/receiver pair to another in an orderly manner may enable reestablishment of links and link-state maintenance more efficient. Furthermore, airborne directional networks present several operationally-driven technical challenges over terrestrial mobile ad-hoc networks including greater mobility, greater distances and different loss characteristics among air-to-air and air-to-ground geometries,” the Air Force stated.

The RFI includes technical objectives that the Air Force says must be balanced to create future directional networking capabilities including, but not be limited to:

   • Antennas and power amplifiers: multiple antenna configurations (potentially including collections of omnidirectional apertures coupled with digital signal processing that can serve as lower cost alternatives to phased arrays), flexible pattern antennas, and packet-rate controllable transmit power.

 • Radios and modems: multi-band frequency hopping/agility, data rate & coding diversity, and multi-transceiver support.

   • Link and topology control: fault-tolerant distributed topology control and context controlled Automatic Repeat reQuest (ARQ).

 • Network and system control: low overhead routing and network management, dynamic load balancing, flexible quality of service (QoS) and admission control.

   • Multi-mission/multi-function RF subsystems: ability to reuse apertures, signal processing, and control to support multiple RF functions (e.g., comm, radar, EW)

   • System architecture: readily extensible & evolvable architecture, distributed fault-tolerant network interoperability, and synchronized operations across multiple missions.

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