Military airborne communications can be tricky. Not only do they need to overcome attempted disruption from hostiles, but also tackle the difficulties in getting different systems to work together. DARPA is looking to improve things, soliciting proposals to get both manned and unmanned systems communicating faster, more securely and in spite of enemy jamming attempts.
One of the biggest problems with modern airborne communications is that many of the currently used radio networks aren't compatible with each other, with different aircraft using different security and radio frequency (RF) formats. There are specialized data-link gateways that get around the issue, but they have limited capacity, meaning that only a certain amount of data can flow between aircraft. Add to that the volatile environment created by adversaries attempting to jam communications, and you start to understand the scale of the issue.
DARPA's new program, known as the Dynamic Network Adaption for Mission Optimization (DyNAMO), aims to improve the situation by looking for new technologies that better enable different networks to communicate, while simultaneously combating jamming attempts. Proposed tech needs to be secure, be able to cope with high volumes of data, and be compatible with both existing systems and future networks.
"Current airborne networks are not designed to handle the complexities of modern distributed and dynamic combat missions, and the challenge is only going to increase in the years ahead," says program manager Wayne Phoel. "DyNamo's goal is to enable pilots in one type of aircraft with a specific suite of sensors to easily share information with different types of manned and unmanned systems and also receive sensor information from those various platforms for a comprehensive view of the battlespace."
DyNAMO technologies will work with hardware being developed under an existing DARPA effort, known as the Communications in Contested Environments (C2E) program. C2E aims to update data-link gateways to architectures similar to those used by modern smartphones, wherein application processing, real-time processing and hardware functions are managed separately. C2E will make sure the RF data is successfully communicated, but it'll be up to DyNAMO to ensure that it's translated and understood by the receiving system.