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 and 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 clear, 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 Camden, 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 III. 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. Third-year plans call for
Ka-band SATCOM on-the-move demonstrations in March or April 2004.
Ka-band communications satellites already have been launched by commercial
operators in Europe and Asia. The rapidly evolving technology promises military
users ground terminals with around 10 times the data capacity at one-tenth of
the cost of common military SATCOM systems.
High-bandwidth ground vehicle terminals that function on the move are especially
attractive to rapid deployment forces.
Successful ACIN demonstrations may justify follow-on investments that transition
technologies to production. Military program managers routinely attend progress
reviews to keep pace with developments, says Bojarski. “When we get to
the end of these programs, the PM knows what we’re doing. He decides whether
At the end of each phase of the ACIN project, if the PM determines that the
equipment fills a “hole” in the Future Combat Systems or other Army
programs, says Bojarski, it is transitioned to the appropriate user. “If
the technology proves to be yet too immature or not functioning to expectation,
the effort is discarded and other emerging technologies are investigated in
the subsequent phases of ACIN.”
The need for assured communications in subterranean and urban environments
that limit radio signal propagation drives Phase III work in ad-hoc networking.
Unlike conventional cell phone networks with fixed relay towers, self-composing,
self-healing ad-hoc networks use their individual nodes to maintain communications
without dedicated base stations. An ad-hoc network can configure itself and
reconfigure itself if individual nodes are moved, destroyed or captured.
In tunnels, buildings or urban areas, ad-hoc networks of “breadcrumb”
nodes dropped along the way could link advancing soldiers with one another and
with external command systems. Alternatively, networked sensors could watch
dangerous cave complexes or city streets. The same technology could help commercial
users monitor pipelines and other industrial facilities. “Everything we’re
working on is absolutely guaranteed to have a military component and a commercial
component,” notes Riganati.
Last February, ACIN engineers used commercial Bluetooth wireless network protocols
to build an ad-hoc network of 50 prototype sensors distributed throughout the
Sarnoff Corp. building. A central display shows where the nodes are and how
the signal links are constructed.
To minimize probability of signal detection or interception, the power-efficient
sensors do not transmit unless interrogated by the network. High-quality commercial
encryption technology protects the data, and captured or “rogue”
nodes can be shut out of the network. The Bluetooth low-power radio frequency
link carries 700 kilobits per second data rate and reaches about 300 miles between
sensors. It works in conjunction with a higher capacity ad-hoc network built
around the more costly but still commercial IEEE 802-11B architecture.
Network engineers designed the prototype sensors with a round form-factor to
fit Volcano airborne or vehicle mine dispensers. Each sensor contains temperature,
seismic, and acoustic transducers with a Global Positioning System receiver.
TV cameras, infrared intrusion detectors, and other sensors can be interfaced
with individual nodes.
ACIN Phase III calls for outdoor network demonstrations, with an eye to the
Future Combat System unattended ground sensor requirement. Cave demonstrations
at Fort Benning, Ga., are expected in February or March 2004.
The ad hoc sensors have already flown on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in an experiment
at Wright-Paterson Air Force Base, Ohio, earlier this year. ACIN researchers
provided seven lightweight, battery-powered nodes: two flown on rotary-wing
UAVs and five deployed on the ground. The ground nodes detected events and signaled
GPS locations. The UAV used the GPS data to go to the site and take pictures.
Mobile networks create greater demands for secure, complete information. Drexel
University researchers are working on information assurance and networking integrity
software. In earlier efforts, Sarnoff engineers developed an access control
toolkit that enabled users with contact-less smart cards to use computers.
The same technology could provide different access levels in buildings or in
areas protected by ad hoc sensor networks. Security software with user profiles
may someday enable ad hoc networks to tailor information to the needs of individual
ACIN Phase III also examines the potential of COTS technology in other promising
areas, such as ultra wideband communications. Now that the Federal Communications
Commission has cleared ultra wideband communications for indoor applications,
Sarnoff engineers are characterizing
the low-power, high-capacity components for short-range military communications
in subterranean and urban warfare environments. Their experiments are to provide
CECOM with recommendations for production applications.
High dynamic range receivers with wide-band gap transistors using SiC MESFET
and AlGaN/GAN HEMT technology promise high power, low-noise amplifiers with
high dynamic range and no cooling requirements. “There’s no question
in our minds that they’re going to produce a revolution in the way systems
are built,” says Riganati.
The technology may make it possible to integrate powerful radars and sensitive
receivers side-by-side without interference aboard Navy ships. ACIN Phase III
calls for the demonstration of amplifiers, mixers and oscillators, and for production
Commercial cell phone base stations have technology relevant to the software-defined
radios sought under the Defense Department’s Joint Tactical Radio System.
ACIN engineers are looking to demonstrate low-cost consumer components in subsystems
that meet JTRS requirements.
Drexel University performs ACIN simulation studies and other research and development
tasks. The school also conducts workshops and seminars for Defense Department
personnel on network-centric technology and applications. ACIN also provides
facilities and business development support in a small-company technology incubator
to help revitalize a blighted New Jersey city.
The Camden Center for Entrepreneurship in Technology now hosts 14 companies
ranging in size from one to 12 people. The small businesses hold a range of
Pentagon and NASA contracts. Drexel University helps start-up companies seeking
defense work. Larger contractors are encouraged to hire smaller companies as
subcontractors. Local congressional representatives have secured around $20
million for the area over the first three ACIN phases. “Hopefully, the
incubator companies will grow and establish larger facilities in the Camden
area,” says Bojarski.