Laser links: the foundation of future broadband tactical networking

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

ORLANDO, Fla. -- I think it's obvious that laser crosslinks represent the future of military tactical networking on land, at sea, and in the air. Laser communications are fast, difficult to detect or intercept, and represent bandwidth broad enough to handle the demands of image-intensive real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Laser communications, moreover, are not limited by the factors that burden RF-based wireless networking: limited bandwidth, dwindling spectrum, and relatively easy detection. RF tactical networking also must conceal itself from would-be jammers and eavesdroppers by technically demanding means of encryption, frequency hopping , and spread-spectrum transmissions.

Let's face it, however, laser communications are difficult. This technology can be limited by smoke, dust, and clouds. Perhaps more importantly, its laser beams can be attenuated and distorted by atmospheric disturbances. Aircraft have been particularly difficult because their motion makes it difficult to keep a laser beam focused and on target.

Many of these problems may be on the way to solution, however, with a company called AOptix Technologies Inc. in Campbell, Calif., which has come up with an adaptive optics system called R3.1 Skyball that can compensate for atmospheric distortion and aircraft motion such that high-speed laser networking on land, at sea, and in the air suddenly becomes feasible.

AOptix is demonstrating the Skyball system this week at the SPIE Defense & Security conference and trade show in Orlando, Fla.

Short range, AOptix experts have tested the system sending data at 800 gigabits per second. At long range, they have demonstrated the system at distances as far as 93 miles (150 kilometers) at 40 gigabits per second.

Think of it; 40 gigabits per second is faster than many of your laptop computers typically can access the Internet wirelessly. What would 800 gigabits per second networking aircraft, ships, and ground stations bring to the table? The U.S. military is pursuing a concept called network-centric warfare . Well, this could be one of the keys.

AOptix officials point out the possibility of moving massive amounts of intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance data nearly in real time from platforms like manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as satellites, to tactical command centers.

These command centers, in turn, could quickly process this data, synthesize it into valuable information, and send it back out in real time via laser links to soldiers, sailors, and airmen on the front lines.

Simply put, this could put us well on the way to the ultimate goal of getting the warfighter the information he needs, just when he wants it. Terrestrial laser communications links. Sounds like the future to me.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

January 2014
Volume 25, Issue 1
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