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Breaking The Bandwidth Barrier


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UAV's, aircraft and communications have put a strain on available bw breaking this bottleneck is essential or it will limit the use of all these assets we are using to becoe "netcentric".

Army Times:
Breaking the bandwidth barrier

Army works to increase capacity for ever-expanding network
kosborn@militarytimes.com - kosborn@militarytimes.com
Posted : January 21, 2008

Within five years, the Army may have too little radio spectrum to allow its next-generation, networked force to work as it is being designed to work, the service’s outgoing procurement chief said.

Battlefield communications networks that allow friendly forces to exchange voice, data and video signals will be key to an Army equipped with 27-ton Future Combat Systems vehicles instead of 70-ton Abrams tanks. Even with Joint Tactical Radio Systems that move bits hundreds of times faster than earlier radios, the needs of an information-powered force are poised to overwhelm the available bandwidth.

“We have enough to do the job today, but I am not convinced we have enough to do the job I see coming five years from now,” said Claude Bolton, outgoing assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology.

Beginning in 2010 and continuing for several decades, the Army will introduce elements of an ever-more-networked force that moves vast amounts of data from soldier-mounted sensors, aerial and ground robots, manned vehicles and more.

Bolton, who stepped down from his job Jan. 2, said the Army is taking several steps to head off a communications crunch.

First, he wants a better sense of the magnitude of the problem. In December, Bolton commissioned the California-based think tank RAND Corp. to estimate his service’s bandwidth needs in 2012, 2017, 2022 and 2027.

“I commissioned a study because I think it is time to get real data, at least for the Army, because I could not find a study in the Department of Defense that gave me a database estimate of bandwidth requirements over the next 20 years in five-year increments,” he said.

Bolton has asked the Army Science Board to look at the problem.

One area of promise is advances in compression technologies, which condense transmitted information to more efficiently use bandwidth.

“If you were collecting streaming video of a moving hostile target, you could dial up or dial down the data compression capability so that you are only able to view what you need,” said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank. “The idea behind data compression is that you use only as much transmission capacity as needed to get the fidelity of messages you want to see. By tinkering with data compression, you can get much more carrying capacity out of available bandwidth than most people realize.”

But compression and even the new JTRS radios aren’t going to solve the Army’s bandwidth problems, Bolton said.

“Whether you ask me to compress, prioritize or go to a different band, those are all Band-Aids. Eventually, you run completely out of bandwidth. Now what? I need that information,” he said.

One possibility, albeit long-term, may lie in the exotic world of quantum mechanics, where researchers are pondering methods of communication that use no radio transmissions at all, he said.

“My gut feeling is if we were allowed to come back in 100, or certainly 500 years, nobody would use electromagnetics and resulting bandwidth to communicate because it is a bankrupt approach,” Bolton said. “All I know is, we can’t go on with electromagnetics.”

Several physicists said there are early theoretical models now examining the possibility of using quantum physics to communicate information faster than the speed of light.

In the meantime, the Army is taking a pragmatic approach to the problem. Units that are testing early versions of FCS technology at Fort Bliss, Texas, are pushing the new systems to their limits — but also practicing to see what they can still do when parts of the network go dead.

A soldier who gets used to fighting amid a wealth of information is hampered when that network goes down, according to a 2006 RAND study.

“Message latency (delays) affected warfighter effectiveness by as much as 50 percent for a selected scenario,” the study said.

Bolton said the Army is trying to figure how to fight with its new gear when it works as advertised as well as when it doesn’t.

“That is going to be the key to success in the future for us,” he said. “We want to red-team the network and see what happens if some of it goes away.”
Faster radios

The next-generation JTRS radios move data far faster than existing radios. For instance, JTRS radios running the Soldier Radio Waveform can transmit up to five megabits per second, far more than today’s Enhanced Position Locating Reporting System, or EPLARS, radios, which move 200 kilobits per second, or the Single Channel Ground-Air Radio System, or SINCGARS, radios which move about 8 kilobits per second.

These new radios will provide a huge advance in access to information for troops in headquarters, in vehicles and even on foot.

“You can move maps and imagery as well as transmit voice and data with a tactical Internet capability,” said Howard Pace, JTRS deputy program manager for the Pentagon.

But networked waveforms, such as SRW and Wideband Networking Waveform, use more of the electromagnetic frequency spectrum than today’s radios.

“WNW is capable because we are using a large chunk of spectrum to broadcast at megabits per second with continuous bandwidth,” Pace said.

Pace said the Pentagon must move more quickly to retire older radios so that the newer ones can have electronic room to operate.

“If you don’t decommission some of these waveforms, you are trying to take more from something that is not there,” he said. “As soon as SRW-capable radios show up, you need to take SINCGARS out. As WNW shows up, you need to take EPLARS out.”

But Pace’s boss, JTRS program manager Dennis Bauman, said that’s going to take some time.

“Part of the force will still be using SINCGARS until we introduce the new capability, so at least until we get WNW and SRW across the force, SINCGARS is here to stay,” Bauman said. “But once you get it across the force, you should be able to phase out waveforms like SINCGARS and EPLARS.”

Nor can the Army look beyond its narrow segment of the spectrum. Over the last few decades, the U.S. government has auctioned off to private companies many frequencies once reserved for the Pentagon, bringing in billions of dollars but constraining the options for military communications, Pace said.

Harvard University physicist Roy Glauber said the increasing use of frequency is a growing problem.

“The point is that every electromagnetic device uses a certain range of frequencies,” Glauber said. “So every electronic device has a bandwidth, so if you have another device with an overlapping frequency band, you will get overlap and cross talk. There is no alternative to having a bandwidth.”