Tactical Communications Solutions Offer Promise

Software-defined networks, commercial satellite communications, cognitive electronic warfare, intelligent radios and artificial intelligence applications potentially offer the military advanced capabilities for the tactical environment, they say. Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University (APL) Julia Andrusenko, Chief Engineer, Tactical Wireless Systems Group and Mark Simkins, Program Manager, Resilient Tactical Communications Networks.

As a 20-year-old APL research engineer in communications, focusing on the propagation and forecasting of radio frequencies (RF) and electromagnetics, Andrusenko works on the part of the physical system, exploring tactical networks, antennas and radio stations and related artificial intelligence applications. machine learning. And as chief engineer at Tactical Wireless Systems Group, Andrusenko is responsible for the technical quality of their projects on behalf of their US military clients.

For some Defense Ministry sponsors, Andrusenko is exploring the possibilities of software-defined networks, using an architecture that uses digital and cloud network configurations to optimize network performance. The flexibility and scalability of the software-defined network makes it attractive for tactical applications, says the chief engineer.

“A software-defined network is the whole idea of ​​creating this type of pipeline based on need,” she explains. “For example, some of my apps may not require a lot of bandwidth, while others require live video streaming. And the presence of this flexibility in the core network is what seems really attractive to our sponsors from the Ministry of Defense. “

Andrusenko also reviews solutions for cognitive electronic warfare (EW) and the connection to cognitive radio networks. With such cognitive systems, the EW device or radio can intelligently decide when and where to transmit or act in the spectrum. Systems, of course, require intelligence of the situation with a skillful spectrum.

“I just finished a manuscript project for a cognitive EW book,” she suggested. “We look at every cognitive system and there is a huge overlap with cognitive radio networks, because they all need situational awareness,” she said. “I was looking to see what machine learning methods might be applicable to these cognitive systems, especially if computing skills are limited.”

On a larger scale, the network of smart radios and the way they work together is becoming an even greater challenge to deal with, the chief engineer added.

“This is becoming a multi-agent problem,” Andrusenko said. “And then we face the issue of cooperation, coordination and communication and how you bring radio stations together. This may be the same for wireless sensor networks. It depends on the mission or function of your system and what you are trying to achieve. Cognitive networks can simply observe, or learn the spectrum, and then transmit, or sense, or perform any cognitive EW — be it defensive or offensive EW, but they all obviously have different purposes. The main thing is how you train a priori your systems or radio stations. How do you train them to recognize the different signals available in the field, and then make some kind of decision depending on the mission? “

The Ministry of Defense is also concerned about how to use the data on the tactical edge, but this is “a really complicated problem,” Andrusenko said. “With our military sponsors at the moment, there is so much data and a hunger for data access and fast access to it with the lowest possible latency,” she explains. “If you have access to multiple data sources and they are not homogeneous, then data aggregation becomes a consideration. And to understand your environment, you need to know how information is distributed through your system. “

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will be the link between cognitive systems, Andrusenko continues. “From an AI perspective, you can probably apply AI and machine learning to every aspect of intelligent system design,” she notes. “And that would help the military fighter by removing the mental strain of having to process all the information coming from all sorts of sources and make a decision.”

In addition, the APL is investigating how the Department of Defense can use low-Earth commercial satellite communications (LEO SATCOM) for tactical military applications. “[We] they are now considering the use of commercial LEO broadband SATCOM systems, potentially not only for primary communications and primary connections, but also potentially as feedback solutions, ”she said.

Although not directly for tactical applications on the battlefield, the use of internal 5G communications is also of great interest. “The Ministry of Defense has 12 test beds for 5G, which have been announced,” Andrusenko said. “Again, this is a commercial technology, so it may not meet all the needs of the military, especially on the tactical edge, but we are helping our various Defense Ministry sponsors by formulating some of the cases of using test beds. For one of the projects I am involved in, we are trying to develop cases of using 5G with a focus on spectrum sharing, as the spectrum crisis is still the real problem. “

Using commercial solutions for classifieds – known as CSfC and published by the National Security Agency and the National Security Systems Committee – is one possible way to use 5G networks outside the continental United States or O-CONUS, the chief engineer suggests.

“The use of 5G in the O-CONUS network and the tactical use of 5G depend on the objectives of the mission,” she said. “If you’re in an urban environment and there is an existing infrastructure, there are probably ways for people to use the existing infrastructure with commercial devices to work and potentially load some applications that will provide the required level of security. It all comes from the use of commercial solutions for classified. Now I see some of the companies that produce tactical communication equipment, and how they are trying to see if this will work on the tactical edge. “

She notes that the Department of Homeland Security considers the use of CSfC with 5G in a remote environment “so potential that it could be a solution that uses commercial tactical communication with CSfC to provide a level of security.”

As APL’s program manager, Simkins is responsible for a range of U.S. Army sponsors, ensuring that APL meets their technical needs in the areas of sustainable radio communications, networks, and security network protection. He works with both the Army and Air Force executive offices in tactical networks, cross-functional teams, and service research organizations, such as the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command C⁵ISR Center and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“As far as sustainable tactical communication is concerned, I am part of a larger program called communications [communications] and networking, and my article focuses specifically on communications and battlefield networks, ”he explains. “I have a little expression that I like to use. I call my program “an unbreakable network and unstoppable messages” because that’s my goal for sponsors. “

To operate combatants in an environment that is highly contested, Simkins explores low-probability and low-interception radio frequency communications, including highly targeted solutions and antenna technologies. “There is this urgency about how we can hide and dominate the spectrum around the world,” he said. “We are looking for solutions that allow us to hide in the eyes and cunning ways of communication that the adversary cannot find. Other areas of research include the use of non-traditional modulation so that the opponent cannot identify what you are doing or that it is you. We also want to prevent the enemy from using it or even make them afraid to turn on their radio. We also want to automate many of these processes. “

Reiterating Andrusenko’s efforts to use bandwidth, the Simkins group is exploring how to provide greater access to spectrum. “There’s this insatiable need for bandwidth,” Simkins said. “You have fighters, weapons, and everyone needs a piece of that bandwidth. There are several ways to deal with this. One is simply to be more efficient with the spectrum you have, so dynamic spectrum access technologies are a big focus of ours. Another way is to simply release more spectrum. Some of these communication technologies and millimeter wave or terahertz approaches are ways to deal with this problem as well. “

Conducting modeling, simulation and analysis of network traffic load is also the focus of the study. “Gathering all the people who might want to use the tactical network on a given day will go well beyond the bandwidth, so you need to be smart about identifying which data is critical to the mission and how it passes through the systems,” he said. dares.

Simkins is also investigating advanced tactical antennas. “Even on top of the radio frequency copy, the antennas, our people have worked with the navy for decades and are really good at antenna holes and element-level digital arrays and things like that. These [solutions] are of great interest when it comes to both targeted networks and protection against rivals. Even things like metamaterials, where you can actually make a passive antenna or you can modulate an input signal and then reflect it elsewhere, are profitable. “

On the tactical network side, APL research examines automated systems and autonomous networks and applies “some degree” of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Such applications could detect conflicting behavior and then respond by reconfiguring or shutting down part of the network, Simkins said.

“Part of our effort is to make sure that the sponsorship base has the attitude that the network is a weapon system and it should be as secure as the weapon system,” he said.

Cybersecurity of a network, both of the radio frequency spectrum and of the mainband, is related to the protection, of course, but also to the permanence, says the engineer. “In this way, we make sure that we are not just defending, but we know that the opponent will enter the net or penetrate, so how can we fight this,” Simkins suggests. “It’s not like you can completely eliminate the threat or get around it, but you can bend, but not break, so to speak.

“Imagine you have a network or a situation where you have sensors that sense something that may not even be connected to the network, it may be a neighboring network, or maybe some kinetic threat that has occurred and that would require certain types of traffic to be a priority in the network “, he continues. “And the idea is that you have this network brain, it can feed that kind of information into the network for any domain that’s detected, so it can tell you what your priorities are right now, and you can merge with another network next door. to get things from point A to B. There is a lot of work in this area as well. “