DARPA chooses four companies to develop military algorithms for dispersed battlefield networks

April 21, 2017
ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are looking to four U.S. defense technology companies to develop new military algorithms and protocols for large, mission-aware, computer, communications, and battlefield networks that physically are dispersed over large forward-deployed areas.
ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are looking to four U.S. defense technology companies to develop new military algorithms and protocols for large, mission-aware, computer, communications, and battlefield networks that physically are dispersed over large forward-deployed areas.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., announced four separate contracts over the past 10 days for the Dispersed Computing Project (DCOMP), which seeks to boost application and network performance of dispersed computing architectures by orders of magnitude with new algorithms and protocol stacks.

Examples of such architectures include network elements, radios, smart phones, or sensors with programmable execution environments; and portable micro-clouds of different form factors.

The four companies carrying out the DARPA DCOMP program are Raytheon BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Mass.; Applied Communication Sciences, a Vencore Labs company, in Basking Ridge, N.J.; the BAE Systems Electronic Systems segment in Burlington, Mass.; and LGS Innovations LLC in Florham Park, N.J.

The Dispersed Computing program also seeks new kinds of network protocols that avoid drawbacks involved with confining application-layer and transport-layer protocol logic to the end points that act as sources and sinks of the data. Today programmable, secure high-speed information processing within the network now is technically feasible.

Related: Two companies continue Air Force research in military communications and battlefield intelligence

These advances warrant a fundamental reconsideration of how to use programmable execution environments located along the path between end-points to boost performance through, such as dynamic modification of protocol logic, or localized in-path analytics to facilitate efficient diagnostics and corrective actions.

For the DCOMP program Raytheon BBN won a $10 million contract on 11 April, Applied Communication Sciences won a $10.3 million contract on 17 April, BAE Systems won a 9.7 million contract on 18 April, and LGS Innovations won a $7.6 million contract on 18 April.

Today users with significant computing requirements typically have depended on access to large, shared data centers to which they backhaul their images, video, or network log files for processing, DARPA officials explain.

Still, the cost and latency of this backhaul sometimes can cause problems in different operational scenarios -- especially when network throughput is severely limited or when the user application requires a near real-time response.

In these conditions users could benefit from using taskable computing power that available locally. The Dispersed Computing program seeks scalable decision systems that enable secure, collective tasking of computing assets in a mission-aware fashion by users with competing demands, and across large numbers of heterogeneous computing platforms, officials say.

Related: Networking vehicles on the future battlefield

These systems must be able to operate in environments where network connectivity is variable and degraded, and enable users to move code to data, and data to code to suit users, applications, and mission needs best.

The project seeks to create programmable platforms networked computation points (NCPs) that use Dispersed Computing software. An NCP could execute functions in support of user applications, network protocol stacks, or both.

DCOMP has three technical areas: algorithms for dispersed mission-aware computation; programmable nodes and protocol stacks; and technology integration.

The first technical area will develop algorithms and control mechanisms to enable efficient use of networked, geographically dispersed, heterogeneous computing capabilities.

These algorithms will benefit users whose tight constraints on latency make interactions with distant data centers difficult, and whose computational complexity may preclude sole reliance on the user’s end device. In such cases using computing power from nearby networked computation points may enhance user performance.

Related: Raytheon to network Navy tactical data links to coordinate electronic warfare (EW) and weapons

New algorithms also could help with processing sensor data when users are limited to nearby computers to reduce the need for high-volume backhaul of unprocessed information to distant data centers.

Algorithms must be able to rank the importance of available computer resources among competing tasks and users. Systems should be able to scale to thousands of simultaneous users and computing locations.

The second technical area, programmable nodes and protocol stacks, seeks to develop programmable protocol logic within the network -- primarily at the transport and application layers of the five-layer protocol stack model.

These may include new functions on user devices that interact with networked computation points to optimize overall performance, such as localized probing, measurement, and analytics for network diagnostics; on-the-fly synthesis of protocol logic; dynamic modifications of NCP platform resource allocation; or adaptive packet or flow manipulation at NCPs.

The four selected DCOMP contractors will do the work at their own facilities, and should be finished by April 2021. for more information contact Raytheon BBN Technologies online at www.raytheon.com/ourcompany/bbn; Applied Communication Sciences at www.appcomsci.com; BAE Systems Electronic Systems at www.baesystems.com; LGS Innovations at www.lgsinnovations.com; or DARPA at www.darpa.mil.

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About the Author

John Keller | Editor

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.

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