Air Force asking industry for next generation of directional communications for tactical airborne networking

Nov. 8, 2019
Directional communications focuses on an intended receiver to resist interference, boost capacity, and safeguard signals from would-be eavesdroppers.

ROME, N.Y. – U.S. Air Force researchers are embarking on a four-year $50 million project to develop the next generation of directional low-probability-of-intercept networked aerial layer communications.

Officials of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Information Directorate in Rome, N.Y., issued a broad agency announcement (FA875020S7003) on Wednesday for the Next-Generation Airborne Directional Networking project.

Directional communications enables airborne transmitters to focus most of their energy on an intended receiver. This not only resists interference and increases link capacity, but also helps safeguard signals from would-be eavesdroppers.

Tactical airborne networks often are different from mobile ad-hoc networks (MANETs), and some of these differences lend themselves to design trade-offs, researchers explain.

Related: Air Force eyes next-generation tactical data links gateway for jet fighter communications

Compared with MANETS, tactical airborne networks are entirely vehicle based systems, which changes power consumption and equipment constraints otherwise imposed by battery operated handheld devices.

Although less severe than handheld operation, aircraft still present size, weight, power, and cost (SWAP-C) challenges as well as entirely different vibration and environmental requirements.

Different loss characteristics enable greater range, and allow any participant in the network to connect directly, which increases the threat of interference.Different altitudes and environmental conditions affect propagation of signals.

Fast, maneuverable jet fighters require apertures and RF electronics capable of rapid switching and pointing. Airborne networks also must deal with different traffic characteristics, and diminished worst-case capacity imposed by anti-jam and low observability needs. These differences motivate a focused assessment of the trade space in directional networking, researchers say.

Related: Air Force looks to Intelligent Automation for tactical beamforming antennas in future swarming drones

Additional example areas of interest are topology management and scheduling; network discovery while maintaining a low probability of detection; ad-hoc network join and leave; directional routing and media access control; survivable airborne communication technologies; modular and open-architecture systems; intelligent information services; flexible directional apertures; and multi-function RF systems.

Expected funding is $10.4 million in 2020, $16.9 million in 2021, $15.4 million in 2022, and $7.1 million in 2023.

Companies interested should email white papers to the Air Force's Richard Butler at [email protected] by 15 Nov. 2019 for 2020 consideration; 5 July 2020 for 2021 consideration; 4 July 2021 for 2022 consideration; and 3 July 2022 for 2023 consideration. Send classified white papers by post to Richard Butler care of AFRL/RITF, 525 Brook Rd., Rome, NY 13441-4505.

Related: Textron to provide directional antennas to help warfighters access imagery and video from UAVs

Email technical questions to Richard Butler at [email protected], and contractual questions to Amber Buckley at [email protected].

More information is online at

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