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SOF Week 2023: USSOCOM to observe high throughput connectivity at sea demonstration

8th May 2023 - 19:59 GMT | by Andrew White in Tampa

The demo will showcase a layered and integrated communications network featuring mobile ad hoc network, tropospheric scatter, and satellite connectivity.

The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) will observe an emerging communications concept at SOF Week in Tampa, Florida designed to maximise high throughput connectivity at sea.

The demonstration, organised by Comtech, Silvus Technologies and Kymeta, will target USSOCOM’s Program Executive Office (PEO) Maritime, which is exploring various ‘technology areas of interest’ to enhance levels of connectivity between crewed and uncrewed surface vessels.

Due to be conducted on 9 and 10 May on the waterfront of the Tampa Convention Center, the demo will showcase a layered and integrated communications network featuring mobile ad hoc network (MANET), tropospheric scatter (troposcatter) and satellite connectivity.

The scenario will illustrate a notional special operations team using a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) to conduct a visit, board, search and seize (VBSS) mission on board a target vessel at a ‘remote location’, according to organisers.

The boarding party will be equipped with Silvus StreamCaster 4200 software-defined

MANET radios and Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) end-user devices (both in service with USSOCOM), allowing it to feed back real-time data to a shore-based ground control station on the sea wall of the convention centre. Mission data will include blue force tracking, GPS, voice and video feeds.

Also using StreamCaster 4200 SDRs to communicate in the same MANET ‘bubble’ as the RHIB, an onshore ground control station located on the sea wall of the convention centre will transfer relevant mission data via Comtech’s Compact Over-the-horizon Mobile Expeditionary Terminal (COMET) to a relay station 14 miles south on Beer Can Island.

This relay site will also be equipped with Comtech’s COMET system for on-the-move communications to illustrate how a moving vessel could receive incoming intelligence from the ground control station.

Finally, a Kymeta flat panel antenna will be used to provide satellite-based internet access should there be a requirement to share operational data across the Information Enterprise System or ‘Cloud’.

All incoming data streams will be aggregated and displayed using the Byteworks Common Operational Picture (COP) platform.

Speaking to Shephard ahead of the demo, Rob Culver, Silvus’s director of USSOCOM sales, explained how the SOF Week demonstration will be only the second time Silvus and Comtech have partnered since the Global SOF Foundation’s Modern Warfare Week exhibition at Fort Bragg in November.

‘The feature we are showing is how to move voice, video and audio data from a moving vessel, displaying and managing that data,’ Culver said.

‘PEO Maritime believes more and more crewed and uncrewed vessels will be working together so they want forward-deployed vessels relaying as much information as possible back to other teams so they can adapt planning on the back of intelligence received while approaching a target area.

‘The toughest part is moving more and more data, particularly for maritime systems like this. And it becomes even more challenging if moving and on water. It’s not a flat surface so orientation of antennas is an issue. Everything can change.’

Silvus and Comtech are planning to move up to 40Mbps in data during the demo although Culver said in theory, that number could be as high as 106Mbps in an operational environment.

‘Once data hits the gateway and goes through the Comtech system, we are looking at about 80Mbps, he added before suggesting in a real-world environment, US SOF would also be carrying L3Harris’s AN/PRC-163 SDR.

‘We have the capability to connect the “163” to StreamCaster. USSOCOM wants to know what’s in the realm of the possible so we are attempting to inform the PEOs.”

Also speaking to Shephard, Comtech’s chief strategy officer, Daniel Gizinski, described how the event will demonstrate an ‘advanced communications capability that bridges across multiple network tiers’.

‘This network demonstrates several of the core initiatives sought by the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) initiative, including multi-vendor interoperability, network healing, and assured and resilient communications in the occasion of a denial event,’ he added.

Confirming how Comtech’s COMET is operational in Ukraine, Gizinski suggested Troposcatter served as both a complement to or an alternative to high frequency (HF) and satellite communication.

’Troposcatter provides much longer range than high frequency radios, with more bandwidth enabling much higher data rates to support streaming video. The development of kinetic, electromagnetic, and cyber anti-satellite capabilities has created a focus on enabling communications in a day without space, given modern military reliance on satellite-based communications. Troposcatter provides a key over-the-horizon extension capability without relying on satellites.’ he concluded.

Andrew White


Andrew White

Andrew is a former editor of Digital Battlespace and Unmanned Vehicles magazines. Andrew joined Shephard …

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