Army tactical communications driven by bandwidth, security demands

Today`s advanced wireless data communications capability is primitive compared with what the armed forces will need in the next century, so industry experts seek to improve networking and make the most efficient use of the RF spectrum as possible

Jun 1st, 1998
Th Mae72345 37

Today`s advanced wireless data communications capability is primitive compared with what the armed forces will need in the next century, so industry experts seek to improve networking and make the most efficient use of the RF spectrum as possible

By John Rhea

Leaders of all the U.S. military services are seeking to increase their ability to communicate between deployed forces - using what they know increasingly as "network-centric" systems. Yet U.S. Army commanders are struggling to meet the growing communications bandwidth and security requirements that experts say will be necessary for them to wage warfare effectively in the 21st century.

In future warfare, Army tacticians envision many small units operating over broad stretches of the battlefield. Yet to do this effectively without being overwhelmed by the enemy, Army planners face a command and control problem that involves the need for an ever-greater two-way flow of information in areas where wireless communications are vulnerable to interception and jamming.

Each new increase in battlefield connectivity proportionally increases the vulnerability of communications networks, points out Lt. Col. Jay Hatch, director of the Technical Integration Center of the Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. More nodes mean more access for adversaries, he says, for jamming, eavesdropping, or inserting erroneous information. Moreover, Hatch adds, there is no one tool that can safeguard information for friendly forces, deny it to the enemy, and guarantee that the sender is who he says he is.

These factors dictate the need for new technical solutions, says Jim Barbarello, director of the command, control, and systems-integration directorate at the Army`s Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) at Fort Monmouth, N.J. "During the Cold War it was force on force, but now it`s a multi-threat environment," he explains.

All agree that the dynamic commercial telecommunications industry holds at least some of the solutions. Army officials have already begun using terrestrial and space-based commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems spanning the HF and VHF bands devoted to military command and control. Dana Mehnert, vice president for world-wide marketing at the Harris Corp. RF Communications Division in Rochester, N.Y., calls this "bringing the office environment into the battlefield" to meet what he calls "ever increasing flows of information at ever more levels."

Harris RF engineers, for example, will begin delivering this year the first HF (up to 60 MHz) and VHF (30-108 MHz) models of its new software-programmable Falcon II line of tactical digital radios. These radios incorporate advanced application-specific integrated circuits to provide e-mail as well as voice communications to deployed units.

The new Falcon IIs, which cost about $10,000 each, weigh 10 pounds (including battery) and provide data rates as fast as 64 kilobits per second. They have been ordered by Lithuania and an unnamed Middle Eastern country, and Harris officials are planning a follow-on version spanning the VHF and UHF spectra from 30 to 520 MHz.

By using a data rate overlay, Mehnert explains, the HF radios can provide e-mail via COTS software such as Microsoft Windows. And with its software programmability, the Falcon radio can link to the Army`s existing Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) to achieve interoperability among U.S. and NATO forces. By networking the tactical radios, Mehnert says he expects soldiers in the field to find them easy to use.

Engineers at the ITT Aerospace/Communications Division in Fort Wayne, Ind. - the sole-source supplier of SINCGARS since 1996 - meanwhile, are upgrading their radios to digital operation and also relying heavily on COTS, including advanced digital signal processors from Texas Instruments and commercial cellular and Internet technologies in an open architecture.

During a 3-week test in February at the Army`s Electronic Proving Grounds at Fort Huachuca, ITT specialists demonstrated a digital radio of their own, the Mercury Near Term Digital Radio (NTDR) using commercial Internet protocol (IP) networking for message traffic among the Army`s tactical operations centers. During an earlier unofficial demonstration last November at the Army`s Division 21 Advanced Warfighting Experiment in Fort Hood, Texas, the Mercury radios, which also weigh about 10 pounds and cover the 225-440 MHz frequency band, supported mobile video teleconferencing.

The company has a vested interest in evolutionary upgrades to SINCGARS to meet future military needs for ever-more-powerful digital communications. Company engineers have produced 160,000 of the radios to date for the U.S. Army and for Kuwait, Bahrain, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, and Singapore.

The company is already under contract to the Army for a SINCGARS System Improvement Program for a 9-pound version operating in the 30-88 MHz spectrum, and that radio is planned for foreign sales later this year. ITT designers are employing the same technology in the British army Bowman tactical radio, which also will operate over the Internet.

What is at stake now is the transition from the single-purpose radios of the past to more-flexible software-defined radios that will be backward compatible with all the military forces` existing radios. These must also sell in the $10,000 range, according to industry sources. The long-term goal is a Department of Defense (DOD)-wide Digital Modular Radio, of which first the NTDR and then the Future Digital Radio will be the Army components. Special Forces units are expected to be among the first users, particularly for the next-generation multi-band versions.

COTS content

In the meantime, Army designers are implementing COTS in a variety of applications, including standard fiber optic cables for fixed installations and an asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) switch to upgrade existing Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) switches, says Hatch at Fort Huachuca.

One of the targets is the Korea backbone network, installed more than 20 years ago, which is based on old time-division-multiplex technology. "Fiber optics is for systems that will be in the ground for a long time," Hatch says. Not only does it provide more bandwidth, but also it lowers the error rate, from one error in 100,000 bits for conventional copper cabling, to one error in 100 trillion bits for fiber optics, Hatch estimates.

For fixed installations, he adds, bandwidth is not the problem since "in a LAN [local area network] bandwidth is free," which means there is a built-in capability for video teleconferencing. This is not true of tactical, mobile forces.

Addressing the security problem, Hatch scoffs at firewalls as "the security tool du jour," stressing that what he needs is security in depth, which embraces many tools. Anybody can steal information inside a firewall, he points out, and a large percentage of computer hacking today is done within organizations. Therefore he is looking for more than host-based security.

The COTS ATM switch is part of the Army`s Warfighter Information Network-Terrestrial (WIN-T), which commanders intended to introduce to MSE. Engineers will implement ATM as what Army officials call a Division ATM Slice upgrade to existing MSE switches. Officials conducted original tests last year at the Task Force 21 exercise at the national Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and later at the Division 21 Advanced Warfighting Experiment at Fort Hood. The ATM switch does not replace current voice switching capability but rater is to provide dynamic allocation of bandwidth to support increased data and video teleconferencing requirements.

The Division ATM Slice is due to be shipped to Fort Hood in December and be fielded in January. If this initial trial is successful, Army leaders say they hope to supply ATM to MSE for the rest of the First Digitized Division and then to the rest of the First Digitized Corps. Then members of the Second Digitized Corps will receive ATM-equipped MSE equipment, along with other units. WIN-T would replace the MSE and Tri-Tac switches with a totally COTS solution also using commercial switchboards and routers.

Ray Herrick, director of the Army Systems Engineering office, collocated with CECOM at Fort Monmouth, is concerned about what he calls the "heterogeneous environment" of Army tactical communications and is working on the architecture to tie together the weapons platforms. This had been done on an individual platform basis before. "The sky was the limit in the past," Herrick comments, "but that wasn`t the best idea for the Army to use proprietary architectures to optimize one thing."

New tactics, such as the increased emphasis on situational awareness, have generated new sources of information and increased the need to push that information around, he notes. The solution, Army leaders realized, was digitization. A 1994 summer study by members of the Army Science Board defined the architectural needs in what Herrick describes as three baskets:

- the first is the Army Operational Architecture, which covers the requirements of who needs to talk to whom, and comes under the aegis of the Army`s Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Va.;

- the second is the Army System Architecture, which involves designs to meet objectives; and

- the third was the Army Technical Architecture, which attempts to meet the interoperability standards.

Herrick`s office was established in September 1994 to support these efforts. The idea, Herrick explains, is to use COTS software such as Windows NT in deployed tactical operations centers and the entire command and control structure, rather than have the real-time operating system (RTOS) embedded in the platforms.

This is already in prototype in the tactical operations centers. Experts here are processing information using the IEEE Posix operating system interface standard with COTS Sun and Hewlett-Packard workstations. The next step is to introduce this environment to combat vehicles, such as the Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. After that, the architecture will extend to the Army`s helicopters, which Herrick concedes will be the toughest task. Using Internet technology "glues the network together in a grid," he says. He estimates that the Army is "75 percent there" in this effort.

Overlaying the terrestrial communications network will be new satellite systems, beginning with commercial communications satellites in Bosnia and then evolving into the DOD`s own Global Broadcast System, which used commercial Ku band satellites at last year`s Task Force 21 and Division 21 Advanced Warfighting Experiment exercises.

That was Phase 1, and Jeffrey Ozimek, assistant to the CECOM commander for space systems and technology, is preparing for Phase 2 with greater capacity at Ka band. The first of three of these satellites was launched to cover the Pacific in March, piggybacking with other payloads on a relatively inexpensive Atlas rocket. Satellites for the Atlantic and Indian Ocean areas will launch this year, and in 1999 respectively.

The Global Broadcast System, as its name implies, broadcasts information globally one-way to the deployed forces. Furthermore, it does not have cross-link capabilities among satellites, as commercial systems such as Iridium do. Eventually, however, Ozimek envisions these capabilities for military satellites that can deploy anywhere in the world. He is also working on a new family of portable receivers under the Army`s Single Channel Advanced Modular Package (SCAMP) program.

Today`s requirements to exchange information on the battlefield are 100 to 1,000 times greater than they were during the Vietnam War, Ozimek notes. Satellites offer new capabilities, but they must be used in combination with other communications means, he stresses. Satellites can be jammed and attacked. "We are still going to need SINCGARS or something like it so we won`t tie up a satellite link if we`re only going a mile down the road," he adds.

Ozimek notes that HF covers long distances, yet has a low data rate and can be hampered by atmospheric effects. UHF is inexpensive but vulnerable and also has a low data rate. SHF offers high capacity and will be a major component of any future architecture, he says. The use of commercial spacecraft represents what he calls a paradigm shift in the architecture to incorporate COTS and a multilayered approach.

The key to satellite communications will be low-cost, portable ground stations. Army officials want something like the 18-inch home TV antennas mounted on vehicles. To this end, Army leaders are working with Rockwell International in Richardson, Texas, to develop an advanced version of the SCAMP terminal.

The effort, known as SCAMP Block II, is in negotiation, so Army leaders are divulging only minimal details. The estimate now is that the SCAMP Block II terminal will weigh between 12 and 15 pounds. The program represents an acquisition strategy worth $20 million to $30 million.

Click here to enlarge image

The Near Term Digital Radio, pictured at right, from the ITT Aerospace/Communications Division is expected to provide sufficient bandwidth and data security for demanding networked battlefield communications of the next century.

Click here to enlarge image

Officials of the Harris RF Communications Division are attempting to bring "the office environment into the battlefield" with commercial off-the-shelf equipment, as well as their software-programmable radio, the Falcon II, to provide e-mail as well as voice communications.

Navy uses computer complex to predict weather

Experts at the Northrop Grumman Data Systems and Services Division in Herndon, Va., are supporting the information needs of the U.S. Navy Naval Oceanography Command (NAVOCEANO) at Stennis Space Center, Miss., as the system integrator of a complex of high-power Cray supercomputers and Silicon Graphics workstations, all operating under Unix.

The Navy`s information processing problem arose from the need to conduct multidisciplinary oceanographic surveys of the world`s oceans to provide 8-day weather forecasts, which are vital to operate Navy ships and aircraft safely.

NAVOCEANO experts collect hydrographic, magnetic, geodetic, chemical, navigation, and acoustic data using ships, aircraft, spacecraft, and other vehicles.

As the data continued to pile up, NAVOCEANO officials first chose Northrop Grumman in 1990 to be the support services contractor for their Primary Ocean Prediction System. In 1990 they used the company`s supercomputers, but in 1996 moved to improved user interfaces, better graphics visualization, and state-of-the-art software environments to integrate a more powerful system.

A major requirement was to improve network interoperability. The company had previously done similar work for NASA`s Johnson Space center in Houston, Texas, and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.- J.R.

Display tradeoff: resolution vs. ruggedness

Designers at the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) at Fort Monmouth, N.J., need advanced displays to complement their ever-more- powerful communications networks.

For the moment, however, they are caught in a dilemma: CRTs provide sufficient resolution, but they are not sufficiently rugged for battlefield use. Plasma displays, meanwhile, can be deployed in the field, but their resolution is considered unsatisfactory.

To resolve this dilemma, James Barbarello, director of the command, control, and systems integration directorate at CECOM, is sponsoring an industry competition to get him the displays he needs. Solicitations went out earlier this year, and about 30 companies are judged to have submitted "serious" proposals.

A down selection began at the end of last month, and the companies that make the cut, expected to be 12 to 15, will submit their wares to CECOM for a juried evaluation in head-to-head demonstrations. The winner will have the inside track for producing the Army`s next- generation-large screen display.

Members of Barbarello`s office have been evaluating 42-inch displays from such producers as Fujitsu, NEC, Panasonic, and Mitsubishi. These displays provide 852-by-480-line resolution, good enough for high definition television, but not good enough for the Army.

The list prices have dropped from about $15,000 to $9,000, Barbarello says, and Army officials would expect to have sufficient volume to buy them at less than the list price if the displays could meet their requirements.

However, that is still about four times the cost of CRTs, which in a demonstration provided 1,152-by-900-line resolution in segments that can be combined without unacceptable seams to provide a total display.

Still, the CRT solution does not make the grade either. "They`re not ready to go to war," Barbarello says. "They`re fragile and they take a long time to set up."

What Army officials really want is a family of displays tailored to the users. CRTs, or some acceptable flat panel display equivalent, may be the best solution for the relatively benign environment of division- and brigade-level tactical operations centers. Yet something more rugged is necessary for vehicles and for infantry soldiers.

Displays become increasingly important with the Army`s stress on situational awareness and collaborative planning, Barbarello continues. Commanders need a common picture of the battlefield.

Furthermore, this is an opportunity to develop commercial off-the-shelf software programs for Sun and Silicon Graphics Unix workstations and then port them to personal computers using Windows. Army officials are already experimenting with doing planning on Windows-based PCs.

This will be particularly important as the information flowing to the displays comes from heterogeneous sources. In the past, operators could optimize a fire-finder radar for moving targets, but now they may also us it as an advanced sensor for other targets. Also, unmanned aerial vehicles will be feeding megabytes of information, such as streaming video and infrared intelligence. - J.R.

Click here to enlarge image

U.S. Army officials are trying to find large-screen displays of sufficient ruggedness and resolution for mobile, deployable communications applications. Pictured above is a 42-inch plasma display from QFTV Photonics Systems, which could be considered in an Army competition.

Army, Marines manage communications with commercial software

Leaders of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are using the commercially available Lotus Notes software packages for managing communications among dispersed sites.

At the Army Material Command, the package enables officials of the International Cooperative Programs Activity to coordinate agreements between the Army and foreign ministries of defense.

All agreements and associated correspondence are scanned in one Notes database with Lotus Notes: Document Imaging. Army experts developed a tracking system to monitor the status of all agreements and associated documents.

Marine Corps leaders are using a similar package for planning and scheduling more than 800 instructional and training events at 200 remote sites and involving 42,000 reserve personnel. The Lotus Notes front-end system enables the users to coordinate scheduling of events and has reduced the number of training conference by two-thirds. - J.R.

More in Computers