The experiences of soldiers in hot spots around the globe have made it very clear: better communication over rugged terrain and in urban environments is a requirement. It can save lives. Yet the traditional military radio allowing one soldier to talk to his buddy does not meet the needs of today’s battlefield communications requirements.
The Battlefield Network
The Army’s top priority is to build out a secure network that extends communication down to the individual soldier. That network is called Warfighter Information Network — Tactical or WIN-T. WIN-T is the Army’s high-speed intranet, providing the infrastructure needed to network voice, data and video communications and the automation necessary to keep highly mobile and dispersed forces connected.
In addition, with radios that can actually “network,” text messages, maps and video common in the civilian world can be passed from soldier to soldier, to leaders, and to the top of the military chain of command. In this way, everyone involved can see, know and respond.
Incorporating Commercial Technology
So why not equip soldiers with smartphones? This is doable as long as the devices are rugged enough to withstand the battlefield environment, there is the infrastructure needed to move information around the battlefield, and military grade security is integrated into these commercial devices such that information can be protected from the enemy. Unfortunately, commercial smartphones are not designed to withstand rugged use, they are not secure, and the cellular infrastructure is not in place in most areas where tactical communications are needed.
Because of these limitations, technology has filled the gap by providing radios that, when networked together with other radios possessing the same core technology, comprise enough capability to perform the work of an entire cell network. If your radio can do that and still fit in your pocket, pack or vehicle, you have something to deploy with.
That said, General Dynamics is investing in securing commercial smartphones with the intent to leverage this technology as an end-user device. This will allow the soldier to connect a commercial smartphone to the tactical network, with the HMS radios acting as a cellular network, disseminating information from the smartphone across the battlefield.
Even greater improvements in operational capabilities occur when separate networks are integrated. Until HMS, no one radio allowed soldiers to bridge between networks. The 2-channel HMS Manpack radios connects separate networks across the battlespace. The lower-tier Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) networks can talk to mid-tier networks that are using the WIN-T. Line-of-sight networks can bridge to over-the-horizon networks. Ground force networks can connect to the aerial-tier networks. In this way, the tactical intranet is brought to the very edge of the battlefield. The ability to span networks brings everyone together, making the battlefield network a reality.
Click to view a large diagram of “A Networked Battlefield.”