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Network-Centric Warfare (NCW) has become the U.S. Military’s central concept for battlefield operations for the 21st century. The success of net-centric operations depends on the robustly networked communication “building blocks” between in-vehicle computers, wireless technologies, and Ethernet switches and routers that link together military vehicles, ships and aircraft into a highly integrated battlefield network. This linking of people, platforms and technologies into a single cohesive network creates a whole that is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. NCW enhances the U.S. Armed Forces’ ability to improve situational awareness, enabling more rapid and effective decision making at all levels of military operations, allowing for greater mission success.
Rugged Ethernet Switches and Routers
The advent of NCW has spurred the rapid development of Ethernet networking technology, as net-centric operations depend on information exchange platforms that support mature and well-tested protocols, offer data in near real time, and provide advanced roadmaps for future performance. However, rugged Internet Protocol (IP) networking subsystems must adapt to meet the unique demands of the military.
For example, many routers and switches not only offer Ethernet interfaces but provide a bridge to traditional serial communications, allowing the military to integrate legacy systems into a new IP networked environment. While consumer electronics are moving to everything-over-IP, the military still operates many legacy systems that need to be supported. By integrating rugged routers and switches with serial interfaces, a
variety of protocols necessary for NCW can still be supported. The DuraMAR rugged routers from Parvus incorporate multiple Ethernet ports that support Power Over Ethernet (POE), and serial ports that support Power With Serial (PwS) so clean isolated power and signal are carried over a single standard Ethernet or serial cable. This eliminates the need for separate power cables or power supplies, while bringing new communications capabilities to legacy serial or Ethernet devices.
To accommodate the military’s current and future needs for NCW—while not adding unnecessary complexity and costs—Ethernet switches are also evolving to provide varying levels of management capabilities. Of growing popularity within military technology refresh programs are the “lightly managed” rugged COTS switches (Figure 1). These devices support a core networking feature set and provide some basic management capabilities, making them well suited for many situational awareness upgrade applications. Additionally, the “lightly managed” variety of switch is much less costly than fully managed switches—a very attractive feature for budget sensitive military groups.
“Lightly managed” switches, such as this DuraNET 1268, serve as an ideal solution to enhance situational awareness in Size, Weight and Power (SWaP)-constrained aircraft, tactical ground vehicles and maritime assets.
Easing Net-Centric Deployment
Thanks to open architecture platforms, new stand-alone and fully integrated rugged Gigabit Ethernet switches and network router subsystems are being introduced. These rugged IP routers and switches enable a variety of applications necessary for NCW, including in-vehicle wireless Internet access, Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony, streaming video surveillance, Communications on the Move (COTM), and smart vehicle diagnostics/maintenance.
A technology trend quickly being adopted into NCW platforms is the combination of Ethernet switching, routing and security capabilities into a single networking appliance. Cisco’s Integrated Service Router (ISR) product line exemplifies bringing together multiple simultaneous services such as routing, switching, mobility, security, VoIP, WAN optimization and VPN tunneling into one device. Ruggedized versions of Cisco ISRs have extended the application use of industry-leading enterprise hardware to allow the military to benefit from generous performance, high memory capacity, high-density interfaces and embedded security processing from a single rugged platform.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company saw the benefits offered by Cisco and chose to implement this technology into the MEADS (Medium Extended Air Defense System) program (Figure 2). MEADS is a mobile air and missile defense system that will incorporate the hit-to-kill PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) Missile in a system that includes 360-degree surveillance and fire control sensors, netted-distributed battle management/communication centers and high-firepower launchers.
MEADS program implements a ruggedized version of Cisco Systems’ 3825 Integrated Services Router (ISR), to provide the network connectivity for its Tactical Operations Center.
To support this mission, Lockheed Martin has specified the DuraNET 3825, a ruggedized version of Cisco Systems’ 3825 ISR, to provide the network connectivity for the MEADS Tactical Operations Center. The DuraNET 3825 combines the powerful features available in Cisco IOS software, Catalyst Layer 2 LAN switching and flexible Layer 3 WAN routing into a single ruggedized platform. This robust IP networking device delivers the performance, availability and reliability required for scaling mission-critical applications.
Communication Data Links
Technological advancements in communication data link devices have greatly expanded situational awareness capabilities—proving to be essential “building blocks” in net-centric operations. As data links handle the moving of data across a physical link in a network, the military must ensure that data links are rugged and combat-ready. Specifically, the developments being made with man-portable Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) communications products give the tactical, engaged warfighter direct access to airborne and ground-based sensors, fundamentally changing the commander’s view of the battlefield.
The ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver), a wireless video transmission system built by L-3 Communications, is widely used by U.S. and NATO forces to view real-time video from unmanned and manned aircraft for battlefield situational awareness. ROVER also provides enhanced air/ground coordination, which shortens talk-on-target for time-critical operations. ROVER comes as a complete, ready-to use system and has proven interoperability with data links in Ku-band, C-band, S-band and L-band with platforms such as Predator, Shadow, Dragon Eye, Litening Pod and other Joint and Coalition assets.
Before Rover’s capabilities, ground controllers had to rely on “visual talk-ons” to hunt for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), track insurgents or follow suspicious vehicles. The ground controller would have a map he used to guide the pilots where they needed to go. With the advancements made in data link technology, the latest version of ROVER can transmit coordinate data as well, allowing all parties (ground controllers, pilots, commanders, etc.) to share the same data simultaneously in real time. This enables users on the ground to indicate or mark a target on a digital map or video signal and send the data to an aircraft—eliminating the ambiguity and difficulty a pilot encounters when trying to identify what a forward air controller on the ground sees.
UAVs Tap into COTS Subsystems
The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in NCW has skyrocketed as drones are credited with saving soldiers’ lives while improving battle space efficiency. However, with unmanned vehicles becoming a mainstay of battlefield and reconnaissance operations, equipping these aircraft with a custom, proprietary computing architecture is costly and time consuming—two unacceptable consequences for military subcontractors. By leveraging common computing architecture, UAV manufacturers are able to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
Such was the case for Aurora Flight Sciences, a designer and builder of robotic aircraft and other advanced aerospace vehicles for scientific and military applications. By leveraging the same computing architecture in multiple aircraft, Aurora increased its reuse fraction, which means reduced costs and improved efficiency. This strategy has empowered Aurora to design and build a range of unmanned platforms (Figure 3).
The Excalibur UAV from Aurora Flight Sciences deploys the ACMC, which benefits from industry standards to support long-term system evolution and reliability.
Aurora began working with Parvus Corporation to develop the Aurora Common Mission Computer (ACMC) as part of Aurora Common Avionics Components program. From the outset, the goal of developing the ACMC was to use industry standards, including Ethernet, to support long-term system evolution and reliability. The DuraCOR mission computer product line from Parvus met this goal as it offered a modular COTS and open-architecture computing platform that could be adapted to its various UAVs.
Also implementing rugged mission computers to facilitate NCW is the MQ-5B Hunter—one of Northrop Grumman’s latest UAVs. Currently being deployed by the U.S. Army to conduct battlefield surveillance using its multi-mission optronic payload, the Hunter flies over the battlefield gathering reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage information in real time. The Hunter then relays this information via video link to commanders and soldiers on the ground. The Parvus DuraCOR 810 computing subsystem was selected to operate as the Payload Interface Unit for the Hunter UAS. These DuraCOR 810 units monitor, control and communicate between payloads on board the Hunter, as well as control the mounted payloads that include electronics and sensors.
Fiber Backbone for Net-Centric Ops
An essential building block for any network is the method for physically connecting the various network nodes together. While twisted pair copper wiring is ubiquitous in both commercial and military application, quickly gaining popularity within this category for NCW is fiber optics. With advantages including higher bandwidth, lower weight and immunity to sparking and EMI, fiber optics offers serious benefits to the net-centric warfighter.
Analysts at Information Gatekeepers Inc. (IGI) in Boston reported that the total market for military and commercial aircraft fiber optics—including fighter aircraft, transport aircraft, UAVs and commercial aircraft—was $306 million in 2009, and will grow to $703 million in 2013. Similarly, Parvus is seeing a notable increase in demand for fiber optic-enabled subsystems, with particular interest from the Navy. For example, The Navy’s DDG-1000 Zumwalt Destroyer ship uses fiber optics cabling because of fiber’s ability to maintain signal strength over hundreds of meters of length (Figure 4). Unlike copper cabling that loses signal strength over long distances, fiber optics maintains signal strength and quality.
The DDG-1000 Zumwalt Destroyer uses fiber optic cabling for its high bandwidth and security advantages.
The military’s interest in fiber optics is also due to the cable’s enhanced security capabilities. Because fiber optics is generated by light, it is impossible to intercept or monitor the data being transmitted. Military aircraft are also seeing the benefits of using fiber optics cabling as fiber’s low weight and size makes it particularly suitable for applications within aircrafts. Fiber optic systems are currently installed on board various military aircraft platforms, including the F/A-18 Hornet, F-22 Raptor, F-16 Falcon, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the EP-3E Aries. Ruggedizing fiber optics to include in military applications is necessary to ensure optimal performance in harsh conditions. Media converter modules may be used to convert existing copper ports into fiber ports. RJ-45 connectors are typically eliminated and replaced with MIL-DTL-38999 style connectors.
Wireless Innovations Push NCW Forward
While wired LAN connections aren’t likely to disappear in the near term, as secure wireless (802.11 Wi-Fi) technologies mature, government contractors are beginning to capitalize on these technologies to untether the warfighter from traditional computing constraints and empower new degrees of situational awareness. The advantages of Wi-Fi are clear—these solutions offer military forces more flexibility and maneuverability while providing greater access to communications and information.
Rugged portable and wearable electronics increasingly have built-in Wi-Fi interfaces as mobile solutions are an efficient and flexible way to empower troops and other military personnel with vital communications, regardless of location. Wi-Fi deployments are also common on Navy vessels, such as the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Destroyer, which is equipped with wireless access points to provide secure, Wi-Fi network connectivity to its crew. Also, by using standards-based 802.11 technology, military units can roam freely and securely between wireless coverage areas. In the past, similar tactical communications often required a direct line of sight back to a communications node, which imposed limits on maneuverability and mobility.
Security for Wireless Systems
With the many advantages of wireless technologies, protecting and securing wireless communications remains a high priority. A number of security solutions can be deployed to provide a multilayered approach in securing assets from external and internal threats. For example, Cisco security solutions prevent unauthorized network access, mitigate worm attacks, and circumvent denial of service attacks. They also conform to government regulations and include commercial-grade encryption technology that has been certified for use in government and military applications. This comprehensive safeguarding of network assets enables military organizations to maximize network uptime and productivity, while minimizing threat impact.
As the military’s need for more computing and networking capabilities increases, manufacturers must continue to innovate subsystem and networking technology to meet impending demands. In addition, by designing the individual building blocks of a net-centric environment to work together, net-centric operations can dramatically improve the speed-of-command on the battlefield and increase the warfighter’s capabilities.
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