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CHIPS Articles: Army analyzes resilient satellite communications capabilities

Army analyzes resilient satellite communications capabilities
By Jasmyne Douglas, CCDC C5ISR Center Public Affairs - August 19, 2020
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Aug. 17, 2020) – Army Futures Command (AFC) engineers are analyzing ways to deter outside communications interference during this year’s Network Modernization Experiment (NetModX 20), taking place at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, July 20 through Oct. 2.

The capabilities under review are part of the Army’s Protected Satellite Communications (SATCOM) effort, which is dedicated to improving the resiliency of SATCOM technologies and protecting Soldier-to-Soldier communications from both friendly and adversarial interference. They will be assessed during NetModX 20, the C5ISR Center’s annual field-based experimentation event that informs acquisition decisions, Army science and technology specifications, requirements and strategies.

“NetModX allows us to test our technologies as they are intended to be used – integrated in the tactical network and running Army mission threads,” said Rich Hoffmann, the C5ISR Center engineer leading the technology effort focused on baseband diversity and interference cancellation. “The Protected SATCOM effort will ensure long-range tactical communications continue to work when the Army fights in a contested environment.”

Baseband diversity strengthens the resiliency of the Army’s networks by connecting network nodes to several links. Each link can have a different data rate and delay, and the technology automatically understands what links are available and provides network users with the highest throughput possible.

“This means that Soldiers will have communications on the tactical battlefield even when one or more of their links are not working,” said Hoffmann. “If we are fighting a near-peer adversary and they try to jam the links we count on to fight, we will prevail because we developed the right technology and integrated it effectively into the network.”

Interference cancellation uses signal processing to reduce interference while keeping the signals Soldiers need to receive intact. Hoffmann likens the capability to using a noise-cancelling headset.

“This technology works for most, but not all types of interference,” Hoffmann said. “We are moving the state of the technology forward to develop interference cancellation devices that work on more interference types and handle several types of jammers.”

According to Hoffmann, the ability to communicate over long distances can be the key to winning on the tactical battlefield. His team will use Protected SATCOM technologies over live satellites during the experiment to gauge their effectiveness and see what impact they may have on real Army missions.

“Our resilient satellite communication capabilities also enable other key technologies, like Long Range Precision Fires,” Hoffmann said. “Reliably connecting the sensor to the shooter, even when the enemy is trying to take your long range links down with jamming, is essential.”

Enhancing the resiliency of the Army’s network is a vital component of Capability Set 23 – a collection network capability enhancements informed by experimentation, demonstration and direct Soldier feedback, scheduled to be fielded in 2023.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Chris Westbrook, chief technical advisor and market research lead for the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team, emphasized the importance of making the network a “more expeditionary, intuitive and automated capability” to lessen the burden on the warfighter.

“Over time, aligned with our capability set construct, the Army will introduce and enhance these capabilities so the warfighter doesn’t have the burden of switching channels or changing the direction of their antenna, and can focus on their objective,” Westbrook said. “These experiments help the Army to assess the maturity of technologies that can help remove this cognitive burden from the operator.”

For more information regarding Protected SATCOM, contact the C5ISR Center Public Affairs Office at usarmy.apg.ccdc-c5isr.mbx.pao@mail.mil.

Pfc. Jacob Murray, a satellite communication systems operator assigned to 258th Network Support Company, 100th Brigade Support Battalion, 75th Field Artillery Brigade, Fort Sill, OK, prepares the Satellite Transmission Terminal (STT) during the battalion’s field training exercise, September 8, 2019 on Fort Sill. The Army’s Protected SATCOM effort is focused on protecting Soldier-to-Soldier communications on the tactical battlefield from friendly and adversarial interference. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Dustin Biven)
Pfc. Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, a satellite communications equipment operator-maintainer with Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, sets up the front leg of the satellite transportable terminal at Fort Riley, Kansas, on Nov. 18, 2019. During NetModX 20, the C5ISR Center will use live satellites to test the effectiveness of the capabilities and see what impact they may have on real Army missions. (Photo Credit: Pfc. Catherine Bravo)
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