DARPA looks to ultra-wideband technology for advanced tactical networking

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Advanced Technology Office (ATO) in Arlington, Va., are soliciting proposals for research, development, design, and testing to support the agency's Networking in Extreme Environments (NETEX) program.

By J.R. Wilson

WASHINGTON — Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Advanced Technology Office (ATO) in Arlington, Va., are soliciting proposals for research, development, design, and testing to support the agency's Networking in Extreme Environments (NETEX) program. The solicitation closes 1 March 2004.

An initial study last year of the ultra-wideband (UWB) sensor and communications systems that NETEX would create was to determine the electromagnetic interference (EMI) effects of a UWB system on existing narrowband spectrum users. That study looked at:

  • measuring the effects of UWB system operation on existing military spectrum users and defining parameters for coexistence;
  • modeling the influence of UWB transmissions on narrowband receivers and providing a set of tools for analyzing the UWB interaction with relatively old systems; and
  • developing UWB propagation and channel models.

The goal of the NETEX program itself is to help blend UWB systems into a wireless networking technology that is strong enough to maintain its data links even in harsh military conditions.

A UWB signal always has a fractional bandwidth equal to or greater than 20 percent of a bandwidth greater than 500 MHz, regardless of the fractional bandwidth.

DARPA officials say they expect to award four to six contracts, running through late 2006, to explore several implementations of UWB technology in harsh operational environments and develop an improved UWB physical layer to support small, reliable, deployable, and affordable radios and radar for military use, as well as the algorithms, protocols, and distributed control necessary for robust and scalable ad hoc networking.

The phase now being solicited will be divided into three segments:

  • eighteen months focusing on the development and demonstration of power-efficient UWB communication systems that can coexist with legacy systems and intentional jammers;
  • eighteen months focusing on the development of algorithms, protocols, and distributed control for robust, scalable, ad hoc networking that shares the UWB channel among non-cooperating UWB systems; and
  • two years integrating systems designs, including a series of experiments to demonstrate the military utility of UWB sensor and communications networks.

DARPA officials say they are looking for revolutionary advances in research that lead to a military prototype.

Applications of interest include:

  • a handheld, short-range UWB communications network for ad hoc applications in a tactical environment;
  • a fast, short-range ground-based UWB sensor network;
  • a radar sensor capable of high-resolution imaging for foliage and wall penetration; and
  • a small low power/long-duration distributed radar system for personnel detection.

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