Magazine article National Defense

Wireless Technology Sought or Urban, Subterranean Ops

Magazine article National Defense

Wireless Technology Sought or Urban, Subterranean Ops

Article excerpt

On-the-move satellite ground terminals and self-healing sensor networks are among the dual-use technologies the U.S. military services view as key to improving their tactical communications and data gathering capabilities.

Under the Applied Communications and Information Networking (ACIN) program, the Army is demonstrating wireless communications and networking technologies that both have military mad commercial applications. The goal is to help lower the cost of military systems, officials said.

Now in the third phase of the prototyping effort, ACIN program researchers are evaluating a half-dozen promising advances in information technology.

In ACIN Phase I, engineers demonstrated a wireless "tooth mike" for dear, hands-free communications in high-noise environments. Clipped to the user's premolar, the intra-oral bone conduction microphone reduced the 110 dB(a) background noise of an M1A1 tank by 30 to 40 dB(a) to transmit clear speech for other soldiers or automatic speech recognition systems.

The technology now is being used by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in an advanced speech encoding effort and has interested the U.S. Special Operations Command. It also has potential commercial applications in construction, mining and airport operations.

The Army Communications and Electronics Command (CECOM) at Fort Monmouth, N.J., manages the program. Drexel University, in Philadelphia, is under contract to apply emerging information technologies to military requirements. The Drexel Center for Telecommunications and Information Networking educates Department of Defense acquisition managers in dual-use technologies.

Sarnoff Corporation, of West Windsor, N.J., is Drexel's subcontractor and provides the principal investigators for most of the technology demonstrations. In addition, Drexel manages a technology center in Camdem, N.J., to nurture information technology startup businesses.

ACIN is funded through 2009. Contracts with Sarnoff Corp. provided $6 million in Phase I, $3 million in Phase II and $6.4 million in Phase Ill. Each stand-alone phase aims to produce "brassboard" prototypes within 12 months.

"It's kind of like a new ballgame every year we get into this program," says John Bojarski, the Army's ACIN program director and a senior project leader at Fort Monmouth's Communications and Electronics Research Development and Engineering Center.

CERDEC generates a master list of military information technology needs, and ACIN researchers talk to field operators to identify critical issues. The process is different from the formal requirements analysis usually conducted in Defense Department projects. ACIN researchers talk directly to users as well as the usual development hierarchy. According to Sarnoff ACIN program director John Riganati, "You often get a very different picture of what the needs are in operational use." Experience in the cave complexes of Afghanistan, for example, launched the current effort in subterranean and urban communications.

Selection of ACIN tasks is negotiated by Army and ACIN program managers. The decisions are based on whether the specific tasks satisfy both Army requirements and a commercial application relevant to industry needs.

Researchers are seeking to meet military and commercial needs with current technologies. "This is not a research program," explains Riganati. "We're looking for things that exist, could shortly exist or could be stacked together to exist." He notes that high-volume commercial electronics typically satisfy 80 percent of military requirements at just 20 percent of the cost of military qualified components.

In the first year of ACIN, Sarnoff engineers used commercial-off-the-shelf components to build a Ka-band satellite receiver for less than $500. In the second year, they produced an inexpensive two-way transmitter-receiver able to link a satellite with a ground vehicle at rest. …

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