Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., on Thursday announced a $15.5 million follow-on contract to L3 for the second -- and possibly the third -- phase of the DARPA Mobile Hotspots program to extend mobile networking to front-line warfighters.
For the Mobile Hotspots program, L2 experts will continue developing a scalable, mobile, millimeter-wave communications backbone with the capacity and range necessary to connect dismounted warfighters with forward-operating bases (FOBs), tactical operations centers (TOCs), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, and fixed communications infrastructure.
The backbone is intended provide reliable end-to-end data delivery among the hotspots, as well as from ISR sources and command centers to the hotspot users. In essence, Mobile Hotspots seeks to provide cell-tower-class performance to front-line warfighters without the infrastructure, DARPA officials say.
To do this, L3 experts will capitalize on air, mobile, and fixed assets -- most of which are deployed units already have -- that provide a gigabit-per-second tactical backbone network extending to the lowest-echelon warfighters.
L3 experts are trying to develop advanced pointing, acquisition, and tracking (PAT) technologies for providing high connectivity to the forward-located mobile hotspots. Advanced PAT technology is key for connectivity to small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for example, enabling them to serve as flying nodes on the mobile high-speed backbone, DARPA officials say.
Providing high-bandwidth communications for troops in remote forward operating locations is not only critical but also challenging because a reliable infrastructure optimized for remote geographic areas does not exist, DARPA researchers point out.
Additional needs like communication support for data feeds from UAVs and transmitting information to troops on patrol in remote areas presents a host of new challenges where dropped signals can create a serious threat to a warfighter's situational awareness.
"Mobile Hotspots will require the development of steerable antennas, efficient millimeter-wave power amplifiers, and dynamic networking to establish and maintain the mobile data backhaul network," says Dick Ridgway, manager of the DARPA Mobile Hotspots program.
"We anticipate using commercial radio protocols, such as WiFi, WiMax or Long Term Evolution, as a cost-effective demonstration of the high-capacity backbone. However, the millimeter-wave mobile backbone developed during this program will be compatible with other military radios and protocols.”
L3's objective in the Mobile Hotspots program is to design a scalable mobile communications backbone with the capacity and range necessary to connect Army and Marine Corps infantrymen with forward-operating bases, tactical operations centers, remote intelligence and surveillance sources, and fixed communications infrastructure.
The program capitalizes on recent availability of commercial components to build millimeter-wave point-to-point links operating at E-Band frequencies of 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz to form the high-capacity backbone.
The program will take advantage of advances in efficient power amplifiers at E-Band frequencies to achieve the equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP) necessary to meet the range goals with small steerable antennas.
On this contract L3 will do the work in Salt Lake City; North Hampton, Mass.; Fort Lee, N.J.; Malibu, Calif.; Nashua, N.H.; Guthrie, Okla.; and Springville, Utah, and should be finished by March 2015.