COTS technologies drive battlespace communications

4Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) communications technologies, particularly the standards-based fourth generation cellular technology (4G Long Term Evolution (LTE)) are mature, proven reliable and robust, easily deployable, and scalable. Readily available COTS solutions also help speed time to market, are easier to maintain, and offer extended system longevity when compared to proprietary, government-unique systems. By leveraging COTS technologies, aerospace and defense prime contractors are not only meeting the needs of their military organization customers, but also reaping myriad benefits, including fast data rates, rapid deployment, scalability, technological maturity, and lower total cost. In addition, COTS-based products with inherent high availability deliver high reliability.

Today’s battlespace has become modernized to the extent that proven, commercial communications technology is now crucial to military success. Combat soldiers need to understand surrounding situations and react quickly to have an advantage over the enemy. Today’s militaries are turning to successful commercial communications technologies, based on open industry standards, to deliver the hardware and software for Command and Control (C2) applications.

The LTE-based, network-centric battlefield

The amount of data that is being collected on the battlefield is growing exponentially as the number of concurrent sources increases. Military officials worldwide increasingly recognize the need to provide the right information at the right time to the right people in the field. This realization gave birth to the network-centric battlespace in which personnel and equipment are connected on a common, digital network. The net-centric battlefield takes advantage of modern communications technologies to ensure fast, secure, and reliable information sharing – which, in turn, increases situational awareness.

Real-time situational awareness information is essential today, and lends to better-informed decision-making and faster, more accurate responses to threats on the modern battlefield and disaster scenarios. Military and public-safety agencies worldwide are starting to leverage proven LTE communications technologies to provide commanders and personnel in the field with a comprehensive and accurate picture of the entire battlespace, on land, in the air, and at sea.

LTE, commonly called 4G LTE, is the fourth generation wireless communications standard and enabling technology behind high-speed data and communications networks and handheld communications devices such as smartphones, tablet and laptop computers, and other mobile electronics. The LTE standards-based architecture leverages Internet Protocol (IP), the trusted and pervasive standard for electronic data communications.

LTE and IP are mature, industry-proven technologies and the focus of years of investment and advancement in the commercial market. COTS solutions and systems based on LTE have proven themselves to be robust, durable, and reliable, reinforcing the aerospace and defense community’s desire to harness LTE in industry-standard form factors such as COM Express

COM Express powers today’s A&D networks

Designed for the latest sets of chips and serial signaling protocols, COM Express specifications consist of a family of small form factor computers-on-module (COMs) appropriate for a range of military and aerospace applications. Entire aerospace and defense networks, from the base station through the core, are being consolidated into small, ruggedized communications platforms based on COM Express modules. These ultra-portable cellular networks require a combination of hardware and optimized software to meet the specialized size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements of next-generation net-centric warfare, and must be able to withstand extreme environmental conditions. The standards-based COM Express form factor also allows for future upgradeability to the latest processor technology as it becomes available for continued support of processing intensive C2 applications.

Radisys was the first to announce COM Express modules with quad-core Intel processing technology, along with ruggedized extended temperature variants, to provide aerospace and defense customers with the processing power required for embedded technology applications in network-centric warfare (Figure 1). To illustrate a small form factor communications solution based COM Express modules, Radisys built a proof-of-concept LTE-in-a-Box solution that leverages Trillium LTE software, along with an eNodeB radio device, to deliver a powerful end-to-end LTE solution that can be deployed quickly for battlespace communications. The LTE-in-a-Box platforms are small enough to allow an entire network to be picked up and moved, or even carried in a soldier’s pack (Figure 2).

Figure 1: The Radisys CEQM87 Type 6 COM Express module is based on the 4th generation Intel Core processor, essential for demanding command and control (C2) applications.
Figure 2: The Radisys LTE-in-a-Box proof-of-concept is based on Trillium software, eNodeB radio devices, and COM Express modules, and demonstrates an ultra-portable battlespace communications solution.

ATCA delivers high performance, high capacity for C2 applications

The ATCA specifications are designed to provide an open architecture that meets the next-generation requirements of carrier-grade communications equipment. Successful in commercial communications, ATCA is also ideal for demanding aerospace and defense applications.

Soldiers at sea, whether on a ship or submarine, can communicate using smartphones and similar consumer-level devices through a single, ship-wide ATCA communications platform that can provide an LTE communications network that supports thousands of users.

AdvancedTCA is also being used on land for battlefield communications. An LTE network can leverage a small ATCA chassis to serve as a battlefield communications hub in a HMMWV shelter or Tactical Operations Center (TOC) ground control station. LTE network-enabled TOCs and Humvee shelters increase the flow of information between commanders and personnel on the battlefield, bringing mission-critical communications – including texts, images, and video – to the tactical edge, something militaries have been requesting for years.

Figure 3: Users have many configuration options when deploying LTE networks that leverage standards-based COM Express and ATCA hardware.

Off-the-shelf technology for battlefield LTE

The battlespace is evolving and the military can evolve with it by adopting a robust and cost-effective COTS LTE solution. Building an LTE network suitable for battlespace communications in a tactical environment is relatively easy today given the broad availability of COM Express and ATCA platforms in today’s marketplace (Figure 3). Capable COTS communications technologies are ready to be adapted now for rapid integration into the modern battlespace, and deliver capable communications where and when they are needed. COM Express and ATCA are key factors in achieving this success.

Thomas J. Kelly, P.E. is a senior field applications engineer, Aerospace & Defense Operations, at Radisys

Radisys Corporation