Digital Battlespace

DARPA aims to hit the sweet spot on data link compatibility

25th June 2020 - 11:00 GMT | by Thomas Withington in Toulouse


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NATO member states have various tactical data links (TDLs) at their disposal – notably HAVE QUICK I/II, Link 16 and the Situational Awareness Tactical Data Link - for secure and resilient airborne communications and data sharing.

The overall effect is a degree of communications redundancy, but each network uses a different protocol to handle data traffic; and they are not always mutually compatible.

For example, the Surveillance and Control Data Link, used by USAF personnel (pictured) in the E-8C JSTARS aircraft to share tactical data, transmits across a waveband of 12.4-18GHz, and handles data at rates of up to 1.9mb/s. This is in contrast to the frequencies used by SADL and Link-16, both of which also handle a different data rate of 2.4-2.5kb/s. H

Heavy data traffic sent from an E-8C would need to be compressed to allow it to be retransmitted across Link-16 and SADL.

In the US, DARPA believes it may have a solution to this problem in the form of the Dynamic Network Adaptation for Mission Optimisation (DyNAMO) programme. This seeks to address such shortcomings by ‘developing information-centric approaches to bridge disparate networks and adaptively configure and control networks… for operation in dynamic and contested environments,’ explained Aaron Kofford, DyNAMO programme manager in DARPA’s strategic technology office.

The programme ‘is developing techniques that adapt to changing mission needs at the network and application layers’. This is distinct from the physical layer, which constitutes the actual radio hardware. In a nutshell, the intention of DYNAMO is realise a mechanism by which mission-critical data can be moved easily between disparate communications networks during the air battle.

DyNAMO aims to ‘provide a virtual network overlay that can route mission data across otherwise incompatible networks’, said Kofford. He gave the example of ‘a high-resolution image which may need to be compressed before it is routed across links with lower data rates… while maintaining quality of service needs such as latency’.

At the core of DyNAMO’s approach is the formatting of data ‘into a common information representation which contains the intended user data with the necessary mission and network context’, Kofford continued. Nonetheless, he was keen to emphasise that the techniques to handle data across different networks will continue to use the standard waveforms employed by NATO and allied aircraft for communications. It is an imperative that these can continue to be used in an unmodified fashion.

This summer and autumn, the DyNAMO programme will conduct experiments with the USN and USMC on various radio platforms to show interoperability.

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