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Staying connected - the technologies supporting assured military communications (Studio)
In an age of great power competition, armed forces must consider how best to deploy formations to the ‘tactical edge’, where adversary forces can severely disrupt levels in connectivity.
Sharing a 1,340km border with the Russian Federation, Finland finds itself at the forefront of such requirements.
Crucially then, this Nordic country has the advantage of being able to call on a domestic industry that is both deeply integrated into the Finnish defence system and is traditionally strong in communications technologies.
The Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) has a range of critical requirements, including the ability to maintain assured and resilient connectivity, as well as the need for an ‘optimal common operational picture together with an agile and adaptable networked command and control system’, in the words of the FDF.
Supporting FDF upgrades in terms of tactical connectivity is Finland’s communications champion, Bittium.
According to Vice President for Defence and Security, Harri Romppainen, Bittium’s expertise in commercial telecommunications technologies and close cooperation with the FDF has enabled the company to develop products that genuinely support the improvement of tactical communications capability throughout the Defence Forces.
Romppainen outlines the emerging demands associated with the return of great power competition.
‘The focus on asymmetric warfare has been dominating thinking globally for the past 20 years, but now as the risk for peer-to-peer and near-peer conflicts has increased, countries realise the need to change their thinking. The benefit of Bittium’s solutions is that they are a great match for both types of threats,’ he says.
To assure tactical through to strategic connectivity in the face of disruption by adversary forces, armed forces demand secure and resilient tactical networks that provide end-users with primary, alternative, contingency and emergency (PACE) communications.
‘In the age of software-defined solutions, tactical networks are more like computer networks, and thus, security considerations are even more important than before,’ Romppainen says.
‘And resilience is a fundamental matter that is achieved through a wide range of frequencies, MANET re-routing capabilities, jamming-resilient waveforms and hybrid networking. These all bring flexibility and have automated features, which help to “hide” communications paths from the adversary.’
According to Romppainen, electronic warfare and cyber attacks remain the most prevalent threats facing NATO and its international partner forces across the contemporary operating environment.
‘EW is something you have to take into account when you start to develop new products. That’s something Bittium has taken into account across our product portfolio, using wide frequency ranges, software-defined radios and signal processing to bring better performance, for example,’ he explains.
‘But Cyber Warfare is also increasingly important, especially with networks becoming more IP-based. This raises the threat of cyber attack, not necessarily over-the-air but from the networks, leading to requirements to protect IP-based equipment. End users also have to manage rapidly changing networks, and industry is developing management systems and tools to support that. We learn a lot when we are working with the FDF to improve our products and networks.’
Armed forces, therefore, require tactical communications networks capable of supporting highly mobile formations, operating high levels in firepower with minimal latency, high bandwidth and security.
‘Levels in mobility have to be increased in a Brigade or Battlegroup formations, based on IP networks and wideband data flowing between headquarters, squad leaders and even the soldier level. Such solutions are aligned with current requirements of modern armed forces,’ Romppainen says.
Bittium’s offering centres on its family of modular, software-defined and interoperable communications products and systems in service around the world.
These include the Tactical Wireless IP Network (TAC WIN), a broadband IP backbone network capable of providing 50 Mbps in data throughput from brigade to battlegroups. The modular system supports MANET, Point-to-Multipoint, and Point-to-Point networks. It can be used to maintain command and control, situational awareness, as well as information security in increasingly mobile combat scenarios.
‘TAC WIN provides self-healing, resilient, and low latency networks that can also be unmanned and autonomous. In addition to our customer cases, one example of such use case is the integrated Modular Unmanned Ground System (iMUGS) project where Bittium develops and demonstrates resilient and networked data transfer,’ Romppainen says.
Recently, Bittium announced the FDF had ordered additional TAC WIN equipment under a framework agreement covering the purchase of the products. The system is serving all three branches of the FDF: Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Also available is Bittium’s Tough SDR range of tactical radios, including a two-channel vehicular configuration, providing simultaneous voice and data connectivity across the battlefield, and a handheld variant designed to fulfil mission requirements of dismounted soldiers. The radios offer a frequency range from 30 MHz to 2500 MHz and can use the same TAC WIN waveform for seamlessly transmitting the data from brigade to dismounted soldiers.
‘In addition to the TAC WIN Waveform, the radios also use the ESSOR High Data Rate Waveform. As a founding member of the European software-defined radio programme, we are one of the first to offer the waveform to our customers. Our goal is to offer state-of-the-art performance and improve the ability of armed forces to cooperate in coalition operations,’ Romppainen says.
‘Security also plays a key role with the radios. The waveforms are crucial, of course, but we also offer our customers access to the radios’ security implementation for certification purposes. In addition, secure device management and sandbox for different applications enhance the overall security in communications,’ he continues.
In addition to the resilient, flexible and assured tactical communications networks, armed forces worldwide are also seeking to establish alternative communications pathways that can be exploited, particularly in contested and austere operating environments.
To respond to these needs, Bittium develops Hybrid Networking concepts. Through Hybrid Networking, users remain connected to the same Mission Critical Services no matter which technology or network they are using.
The tactical communication networks are an integral part of the concept, but those can be complemented with other networks such as 4G LTE, 5G, and VHF. Data services and situational awareness information are automatically delivered across the available and appropriate communication pathways.
‘Armed forces can use whatever communication path is connected, meaning all battlefield services can be made available over any network. At Bittium, we create solutions which make it as easy as possible for the soldier to connect to whatever network is available, allowing them full connectivity to services in difficult conditions.’
Uniquely positioned to observe the emerging demand signals of armed forces operating in the age of the great power competition, Bittium stands ready to support its customers throughout an increasingly complex operating environment.
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