An Analysis of the Impact of Software Defined Radios on Modern Military Comms
As the battlefield continues to modernize, the communication needs of today’s fighters are growing. In a previous article by Modern combat space, we spoke with experts from Collins Aerospace about how the defense community’s approach to communications has become more modular in an attempt to adapt more quickly to unique battlefield scenarios and specific situational needs. This conversation revealed how new technologies such as software-defined radio stations illustrate this growing modularity in military communications.
To learn more about software-defined radios (SDRs) and their application in combat, we spoke with Thomas Schamberger, air communications manager at Collins Aerospace, and Joseph Graf, associate at Collins Aerospace. In our conversation with them, they explain the clear differences between non-SDRs and SDRs, what advantages they offer to the military fighter table, and the obstacles that community defense has to deal with during their implementation. Here’s what they had to say:
Modern combat space (TMB) Editors: Tell us a little about how software-defined radio stations (SDRs) have changed military communications capabilities.
Thomas Schamberger: Unlike “specially designed radios” (PBRs), modern SDRs are “computers” on the front with radio technology on the back. Today, SDRs can take many different waveforms that a military fighter may have to pursue in a particular battle or enemy, compared to the old days when a radio used a waveform. With the pace of the battle and the extremely fast-changing scenarios that military fighters face today, the need to immediately switch and realize the situation in real time requires an SDR in every domain – air-land-space-sea – all working together as a cohesive communication ability. The existence of multifunctional SDRs is the “norm” for our military today, and this concept and deployment is spreading among our allies and coalition partners abroad.
Joseph Graf: It is also important to note that PBRs are designed for very specific CONOPS (concept of operations) or mission. They cannot be changed or modified according to the dynamic environment that the fighter may encounter. However, this flexibility comes with SDRs.
Editors of TMB: What are the advantages of adopting SDR as the main means of communication in the battlefield?
Schamberger: A key advantage is the ability to host multifunction capabilities such as waveforms, built-in cryptology and greater internal processing power, which provides real-time communication around the battlefield. Marry this with advanced navigation and precise synchronization and GPS progress, and the fighter already has the most accurate method of communication available today. The ability to instantly adapt to the changing needs of the battlefield is also a by-product of SDR radios.
TMB Editors: What are the challenges of the transition from non-SDR to SDR? Is it interoperable?
Schamberger: Interoperability in its fullest form is a problem from the outset, as SDRs have greater potential than non-SDRs. In addition, technology that supports installed SDRs, such as host platform processing, antenna needs, high power amplification, diplexes, and triplexes, must be evaluated and considered during host platform planning and subsequent integration.
Count: That said, a key aspect of SDRs is that unless there is its own waveform, the platform can host legacy functionality. This means that SDRs can be formatted to interact with non-SDRs, but not vice versa.
Editors of TMB: How did SPTs give rise to the idea of more modular approaches to military communications?
Schamberger: Open System Architecture (OSA) is the next trend in military communication systems, as OEMs are looking for modular ways to meet their communication needs. SDRs and their multifunctional features have paved the way for OSA schemes for platforms such as the F-35. Market trends tell us that this will continue to evolve as we enter 2020 and certainly beyond.
Count: In addition, there are a number of barriers that need to be addressed at the hardware layer (eg security limits, bus speeds and total bandwidth), but certainly the emergence of open system software architectures, such as SCA (Software Communications Architecture), allow the distribution of the waveform components in different modules in hardware implementation with open architecture.
We are pleased to continue to observe how the communication arena in defense continues to evolve and adapt to various challenges and technological breakthroughs. There is no doubt that software radios are a great example of how the defense community uses more agile and sustainable technologies to bring the best possible communication capabilities.