Academic journal article Military Review

Everything I Never Wanted to Learn about the Network and Where We Might Go from Here

Academic journal article Military Review

Everything I Never Wanted to Learn about the Network and Where We Might Go from Here

Article excerpt

While establishing a communications network for an exercise at the Maneuver Center of Excellence on Fort Benning, Georgia, I had to roll up my sleeves, bite the bullet, and learn more than I, or most of my maneuver brethren, would ever care to learn about the current state of communications. Like many of my colleagues, I just want communications to work, and I do not (or did not) care why or how. However, the truth is that, currently, networks simply do not work (and will not work) in the way many of us expect. But, once we learn some simple fundamentals, there is potential to make networking, the verb, a reality.

The Laws of Physics and the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW)

Radios can transmit a lot of information over a short distance or a little information over a long distance. Period. This is due to the way a radio wave carries information and propagates. Iterative technology advances and longer antennas will not change this simple rule. We can maximize the amount of data and range of a given waveform for maximum benefit only up to the limit of that particular waveform. This is important to point out as it requires a radio optimized for performance to get the most out of a limited range for a networking waveform.

Networking waveforms carry a lot of information and are short range due to the physics involved; there is no overcoming this. On the other hand, long-range waveforms, such as the SINCGARS (single-channel ground and airborne radio system) waveform we have been using for years, carry little more than voice and some very limited data. As a result, it is, technically, possible to establish local networks around platoons, possibly around entire companies, and certainly around company and higher headquarters. However, the range of these local networks is likely to be measured in meters, not kilometers. Another type of waveform with more range is required to bridge the gaps between local networks using voice, not data, due to the distance the waveform needs to travel. (1) Consequently, the idea that we can populate a single, Internet-like unifying network with our data for all to see in real time is unattainable.

A brigade commander will not routinely see the sensor feeds going to squad leaders, unless there is a preplanned event and the resources are in place to relay that signal. The relay resource most often mentioned is an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), which is touted by many as the answer to the gaps of local networks as part of the "aerial layer" (2) This may be effective given a point-to-point relay of a signal, but this fills just one gap from one local network to one other. There are, however, other significant shortcomings with this aerial layer concept.

The Myth of the Aerial Layer

While it is true that a signal may be relayed from one point to another over substantial distance using a UAS, it is not the panacea that some are led to believe. Army communications architecture slides often show the UAS with lightning bolts linking a platoon to a company to a battalion to a brigade, and some even to a division. Normally, these slides show one representative platoon, although actually there are many, and it would be some kind of extraordinary platoon that would operate on the division's network. Such connectivity would need preplanning in order to program all the radios required to relay the signal (without exceeding the capacity of the network). Recall that with the short range of the networking radios, there is no single unifying network, only local networks operating on their own frequencies. In a three-brigade division, there could be twenty-one battalions, eighty-four companies, and two hundred fifty-two platoons. This would require a substantial allocation of the available UASs to be dedicated to relay company, battalion, and division networks.

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This presents a large problem set. However, the scale and scope of the problem may often be glossed over in the reputed solution because even if a super-communication UAS is developed that relays multiple frequencies at once, it will still be subject to the same duration and weather constraints and would be vulnerable to counter-UAS. …

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