Boeing eyes ATM for wireless battlefield network

SEATTLE - A new mobile wireless communication system - a joint development of the Boeing Co. Phantom Works in Seattle and IBM Corp. in Bethesda, Md. - will enable continuous global communication between air, ground, and sea forces during a battle.

Dec 1st, 1998
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By John McHale

SEATTLE - A new mobile wireless communication system - a joint development of the Boeing Co. Phantom Works in Seattle and IBM Corp. in Bethesda, Md. - will enable continuous global communication between air, ground, and sea forces during a battle.

Engineers will refine the system after its demonstration at the Expeditionary Force Experiment in 1999.

Using a mobile wireless asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) network, the new system produces an uninterrupted flow of information between ships, aircraft, and land vehicles. The system will be an extension to the Defense Information System Network.

Today, when an aircraft or other mobile platform moves beyond a ground station`s range, the flow of information is interrupted until another transmitter can pick up the feed. The Boeing/IBM system enables a continuous connection by coordinating the network links between transmitters. The signal is automatically relayed, creating a continuous flow.

Designers chose ATM because of its compatibility with many commercial applications, says ShanKar Ray, manager of group communications systems at Boeing. The common system creates a platform that can adapt new technologies or applications, he says.

The IBM wireless ATM - based on the company`s PRIZMA technology - secures rapid data transmission, from 500 megabytes to 1 gigabyte of bandwidth, and supports mobile and fixed users, Boeing officials say.

PRIZMA technology helps designers build multi-gigabit wireless ATM switching fabrics. Its key feature is its flexibility - designers can combine several PRIZMA chips in different ways to build a range of communication nodes, IBM officials say.

IBM engineers are developing the next-generation PRIZMA, which uses CMOS technology to increase aggregate throughput and reduce costs, IBM officials claim.

A key challenge in designing the system was maintaining the infrastructure of the mobile network, Ray says.

The key enabling commercial-off-the-shelf technology of the new wireless network is the Boeing phased array antenna, says Geoff White, manager of the RF/photon optoelectronics group at Boeing. The antenna enables operators to track high-powered satellites, he says.

The high-bandwidth antenna communicates on bands from super-high-frequency (SHF) to extremely high frequency (EHF) to move massive volumes of information. Unlike conventional, mechanically steered antennas that are bulky, heavy, and slow, the new thin, and lightweight phased-array antennas can steer beams electronically for quick connections between satellites and mobile platforms.

The antenna also provides anti-jam technology through beam nulling and has a 70-degeee-scan angle from its boresight.

The communication antenna enables military customers to receive fast, broadband, Global Broadcast System information on aircraft, surface ships, submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles, and ground vehicles. The antenna system enables theater commanders to share information, and permits two-way communication between mobile platforms through its ability to simultaneously receive and transmit to an alternative satellite, such as Milstar.

The 2-by-3-foot 1,500-element antenna is about 1 inch thick. Boeing Defense & Space Group initially developed the antenna under an Integrated Circuit Active Phased Array contract with Rome Laboratory at Hanscom Air Force Base in Lexington, Mass.

Boeing demonstrated elements of the system on several aircraft in the U.S. Air Force`s Expeditionary Force Experiment - EFX `98 - earlier this year at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Aircraft participating included the TS-3, an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) test aircraft; a U.S. Air Force C-135 avionics testbed; a KC-135R transport; a B-1B bomber; and a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. EFX `98 demonstrated how emerging command and control capabilities could help U.S. forces stop invaders.

For the TS-3, KC-135R and the C-135, Boeing experts also designed and installed a workstation/local area network environment to run theater battle management core-systems applications and other mission planning software.

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A new ATM-based mobile wireless communications system from Boeing and IBM will enable uninterrupted communication between air, ground, and sea forces.

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