Successful military programs aren’t built on equipment and personnel alone—data has become the new weapon of choice. Achieving informational superiority—defined by Strategy& as “the ability to meet the information requirements of supported forces with superior timeliness, relevance, accuracy, and comprehensiveness that’s achievable by the adversary”—is paramount to mission success.
Therefore, it’s critical to establish reliable networking connectivity that informational superiority requires to facilitate situational awareness, tactical strategies, convoy communications, and more.
Especially as operations are on the move, there are technological and situational complexities decision-makers must filter to make an informed decision across a broad range of complex and dynamic systems.
In these situations, having complete, accurate, and up-to-the-minute data is essential—yet military and defense personnel continue to struggle with the complexities of establishing and maintaining broadband connectivity in remote, mobile, and often hostile environments.
Challenges of On-the-Move Connectivity
Connectivity gives military personnel the ability to maximize all battlefield tools, personnel, and equipment to facilitate military effectiveness, keep troops safe, and retain full situational awareness.
The very nature of troops in motion is what impairs connectivity. Line-of-sight issues, where different parts of a network can’t “see” each other and communicate, are par for the course in a military operation on the move. Satellites are used for other types of military communications, but create issues with timeliness of data in mobile situations. Especially in mobile military operations, timing is everything, and if data is engagement-critical or safety-critical, even a few milliseconds of delay can create an issue.
Additionally, any associated network equipment must be man-portable and wearable. Every inch of space and ounce of weight counts in the field, and equipment must be light enough that it doesn’t add a significant weight burden to an already overloaded soldier.
Equipment also must be able to go on or in vehicles, where space is also at a premium, and interference is high; vehicles contain a lot of RF traffic because of other systems and technologies they carry. Equipment must move smartly within the allocated spectrum to mitigate interference, enabling connectivity from that vehicle to other personnel and vehicles in the field, and vice versa.
Many mobile operations are located in extreme environments—places that are very hot, cold, dusty, snowy, windy, or wet, meaning equipment must be rugged and able to withstand these extremes and normal activities of a company soldier (which involve a lot of movement). Hazards of the modern battlespace are many, and equipment that provides connectivity but is too fragile to survive missions become useless.
Finally, the importance of security cannot be emphasized enough. Every piece of equipment attached to a network must ensure data is never compromised and communications never go down. A mobile military operation is a constantly changing environment of evolving threats, so equipment must adapt on the fly and protect against these dangers every step of the way.
To meet the numerous challenges of mobile military communications and ensure connectivity on the move, military operators have been deploying a type of wireless network called kinetic mesh.
A Rugged, Reliable Network
A kinetic mesh network combines wireless network nodes and networking software. It employs multiple radio frequencies and any node-to-any-node capabilities to instantaneously route data via the best available traffic path and frequency, with up to 300 Mbps transfer rates.
If a certain path becomes unavailable for any reason—due to antenna failure, for example—nodes on the network use an alternate delivery route for the data, eliminating any gaps in communication and allowing on-the-fly transmission of voice, video, and data, despite conditions that would cripple other networks. Routes are built automatically, evaluated for quality, and performance for every sent and received packet.
The key to ably building routes automatically and still have military utility is the harmonization between the kinetic mesh network, along with the Command & Control (C2) system pushing the data. Harmonization begins and ends with mission threads, and not all data is created equal. An Engagement kill chain may need millisecond handling, whereas simple Situational Awareness will still have military utility (but at a slower speed). The architecture must be smart enough to do this autonomously.
There is no central control node or single points of failure. These self-healing, peer-to-peer networks support WiFi, integrate easily with Ethernet-connected devices, and scale to hundreds of high-bandwidth nodes. In fact, the more nodes added, the more pathways are established, improving the network’s resiliency. This helps create a force multiplier in combat situations, and during other mission-critical environments.
The nodes self-configure, making it simple to expand the network, and are built to withstand hostile environments like battlefields. Each node serves as singular infrastructure, enabling everything within the network to be mobile: wireless nodes, clients, and network traffic can move in real-time without manual intervention.
A kinetic mesh network can be easily redeployed and expanded in multiple ways, and still operate with the same level of reliability, even in the harshest conditions. It eliminates the challenges of time-consuming, complicated deployments in the midst of battlefield pressures, challenging terrain, and changing operations: A soldier doesn’t need extensive training to set up a radio, and companies no longer need to lay new cable every time their headquarters move, which requires man-hours and taxpayer dollars.
Not to be overlooked is the network’s military-grade level of security (with some radios certified to “Secret and Below” interoperability). Kinetic mesh delivers end-to-end, 256-bit encryption. When encrypted information flows through the mesh and comes out another node, it stays encrypted all the way through, and isn’t decrypted until delivery to its final destination. At each hop in the network, kinetic mesh provides a per-hop authentication for each packet. Metadata is also encrypted; an attacker can’t analyze the traffic and see which nodes are communicating with other devices—which, in a battlefield situation, could give away position.
Kinetic Mesh’s Role in Mobile Military Operations
According to the Mission Command Center of Excellence, it’s critical to have a transportable network providing better soldier connectivity and facilitating the transfer of real-time data between all soldiers, even as they move around.
Intended to meet these goals, SoldierLink is a communications network connecting all military personnel from the individual soldier, up to national command for aiding informational superiority and distributing situational awareness communications, including position locator information for soldiers and vehicles.
The system uses an advanced kinetic networking waveform, which can operate on a single or multiple frequencies. It establishes a secure infrastructure-less high-speed Mobile Ad-hoc Network (MANET), forming the MANET using an all-IP mobile-meshing radio-transport technology, advanced protocols, and packet aggregation algorithms.
The kinetic mesh radio nodes function as a gateway to other networks, and connect via Ethernet standards. With 5 to 20 Mbs of encrypted data throughput per dismounted users and vehicles, company-level and below soldiers can obtain web-based services and cloud applications, connecting lower levels with leadership.
Ensuring Network Superiority
Informational superiority and complete situational awareness are directly proportional to mission success probability, and leveraging technology is the smartest and fastest way to achieve that success.
As more systems are developed (using kinetic mesh networks as a backbone), troops on the move will become increasingly empowered by the on-the-go connectivity they can access.
Additionally, these types of systems help increase force protection, create better situational awareness, allow better collaboration and information exchange between combat user groups, along with enhancing other mission-critical command capabilities.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense