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Adaptable Architecture: How Vehicle Communications are Evolving for the Modern Battlespace

12th June 2024 - 16:00 GMT | by Shephard In Conversation

In Conversation... General Dynamics Mission Systems' Dr Emeka Egbogah talks to Shephard's Gerrard Cowan about the communications challenges facing armoured vehicle crews and the need for an open-architecture modular system to meet their constantly evolving needs.

Modern combat vehicles face highly complex communication challenges, with a need to ensure robust connectivity across a contested and multi-domain battlespace. The MESHnet family of products from General Dynamics Mission Systems has evolved to meet these demands, supporting operators through a flexible open architecture and a modular approach.

“The MESHnet product line provides a unified combat vehicle Communication and Information Systems solution built on a range of advanced elements,” shares Dr Emeka Egbogah, a Product Portfolio Manager for Tactical CIS (TacCIS) Solutions at General Dynamics Mission Systems – International. “It delivers data efficiently and reliably with low latency, while adapting to meet the varying needs of individual customers around integration requirements, as well as size, weight, power and cost.”

MESHnet’s open architecture works seamlessly with the different radios, hardware, and software that operators deploy. The product line includes smart displays and computing hardware to view live vehicle camera feeds, host command and control (C2) software, and integrate complex vehicle subsystems. It also offers crew stations for mission-critical voice and audio services, power distribution and management of devices, and connectivity support for dismounted soldiers.

This capability will be on display at the Eurosatory exhibition in Paris from June 17-21, with the company demonstrating how MESHnet can seamlessly integrate into combat vehicles and meet the many needs of crew members that operate these modern vehicles.

User-centric innovation

How does the company ensure flexibility in practical terms? Egbogah explains that “MESHnet is built on a fully open vehicle electronic architecture. The current version is the most modular solution General Dynamics has developed to date.”

Full connectivity throughout the fleet is achieved using the Internet Protocol (IP) standard, a common method of enabling devices to communicate across different vehicles, whether they are manufactured by General Dynamics, BAE Systems, Rheinmetall, or other military land vehicle suppliers. Dynamic IP routing addresses potential communications obstacles.

“One of the significant headaches we are seeing for defence customers is that they have different assets built by different vendors, and they don't communicate well together, if at all. MESHnet allows for that interoperability and cohesiveness, building digital connectivity between previously isolated silos,” says Egbogah.

This also extends to allies, he notes, with the system using open standards – such as NATO’s – to enable communication across multinational fleets. General Dynamics works closely with both military customers and OEMs to ensure all needs are met.

And just as the system is designed to flexibly work with a range of C2 applications, it can also integrate with a variety of different communication bearers, no matter the manufacturer. Whether they are tactical radios made by L3Harris, commercial wave-relay products produced by Persistent Systems, or SATCOM technology from Starlink.

“Our customers have the ability to introduce their own preferences, so they’re not locked in to one specific vendor,” explains Egbogah. “The key components utilised in MESHnet boxes are common across all variants. What this means is that when operators want a new capability, we aren't talking about building a brand-new box; we're really talking about quickly adapting and inserting new features through software.”

Egbogah highlighted the Tactical Crew Stations (TCS) developed specifically for MESHnet. Because platform crew members interact directly with these systems, it is vital that they are user-centric.

To meet this goal, the TCS was designed alongside actual soldiers, benefitting from their direct insights and feedback on what features were necessary to ease an operational burden in the most stressful of situations. “General Dynamics’ unwavering commitment to safety, reliability, ease of use, and minimal training requirements are what separates its products from our competitors,” adds Egbogah.

MESHnet can be adapted as needed depending on the vehicle in question and any particular customer requirements. For example, a light tactical vehicle platform must be able to provide the data and voice services the crew depend on, all while maintaining a key SWaP-C advantage by reducing the number of installed hardware components.

To meet these stringent SWaP-C demands, MESHnet offers the TCS-300 that can function both as a noise-suppressing intercom device for voice communications within the vehicle and a tactical router for enabling data transfer between vehicles.

“On the other hand, a larger tracked/wheeled fighting combat vehicle will have more extensive and complex requirements, with operators keen to maximise capabilities while minimising costs,” notes Egbogah. In this case, users could rely on its next generation SD9112 Smart Display Unit, tactical routers like the Tactical LAS Adapter (TLA), and the Tactical Mobile Router 308 (TMR 308) to provide backward compatibility and extensive routing functionality, respectively, as well as a range of other equipment.

Technological evolution

General Dynamics has incorporated cutting-edge technologies to ensure MESHnet makes a difference for soldiers in the modern battlespace. Egbogah points to the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) features into the mix, which is achieved by utilising modules from the commercial sector.

“AI supports capabilities such as voice-enabled commands which means soldiers can speak and our hardware will translate that voice clearly into very reliable instructions thus enabling hands-free operation for soldiers that are already burdened with on-body equipment. AI also empowers noise cancellation for soldier communication, essentially blocking the noise inherent to combat environments.

“With a global defence domain populated with soldiers communicating in different languages, MESHnet’s adoption of AI enables the system to translate different languages to a soldier’s native tongue in a textual or audible manner,” he says. “We can quickly take these modules and incorporate them into our hardware and get new capability to our customers.”

He further explains that AI is at the forefront of the company’s research and development priorities for MESHnet to ultimately expand the system’s flexibility. A strong hardware foundation means General Dynamics can quickly introduce new features.

“We can bring in different AI modules to offer new capabilities and we are going to leverage the technology in many different ways to improve communication at the edge and how it is processed at a dispersed headquarters.”

Additionally, Egbogah shares that General Dynamics is working to support new and advanced communication bearers. While this has focused on radios to a large degree, the company is also active in integrating Starlink and other low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite technologies.

“Our customers can now use SATCOM for higher bandwidth and easier availability. At a higher level, there is ongoing work on wireless communications both inside and outside the vehicle, with General Dynamics seeking to incorporate capabilities from academia.”

Versatile offering

Versatility is a key aspect, with MESHnet installed in thousands of vehicles around the world. The General Dynamics smart display provides the interfaces needed to integrate subsystems and sensors and can take the information from any vehicle and allow that feed to be viewable on the display.

For example, this could include data related to the direction of movement, speed, fuel consumption, or threats to the platform. Rather than deliver this critical information on separate devices, MESHnet ensures a consolidated viewpoint.

The display also provides BMA integration support, Egbogah adds, a crucial provision for ease of integration and flexibility. “Customers naturally opt for their preferred software tools for battle management which differs across nations. For example, MESHnet has been integrated effectively with BMAs selected by the UK, Canada, Romania and other countries.”

Any of these applications can be accessed through a BMS button on the screen which operates as a shortcut. “The flexibility of using all these applications on one display is significant, as many systems don’t provide that kind of functionality,” he says.

A range of other innovations and offerings support flexibility and adaptability for combat vehicle operators, no matter their individual needs, including:

  • Intercom and radio voice: Many intercom systems fielded by armies today use both analogue and digital variants. MESHnet is designed to easily switch between both, ensuring intercom is always available, even if one aspect is temporarily damaged.
  • Routing and networking: MESHnet’s networking equipment supports high speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second, which is unique for rugged boxes that are designed to survive really tough combat. The system supports a variety of radios and has an adaptable routing capability for compatibility with different standards that a radio may have, including varying bandwidths.
  • Unified Communications: New to MESHnet is what Egbogah terms the ‘WhatsApp of the Battlefield’: the Unified Communication Application (UCA). From any smart display, rugged laptop, or Android device, a soldier has access to a modern and sleek user interface that allows for intercom, chat, telephone calls, radio voice, video conferencing, user presence, and dynamic network topology viewing all from a single application.
  • V-App and VDA: The Vehicle Application (V-App) software provides full feedback on the vehicle’s operations, and can easily be customised for new components. Likewise, the Video Display Application (VDA) can incorporate a range of camera feeds and display them on the same screen.

Customer flexibility

The focus on flexibility is crucial at the technological level, but also extends to the work that General Dynamics conducts with its customers. Additionally, the modular approach provides the MESHnet family with “a common DNA that we can constantly evolve”, meaning that one customer can build upon the foundation established for another.

The company uses its heritage as a launch pad, Egbogah says, expanding upon its experience with existing customers and adapting that as required to meet future demands.

“We have built out a product line that is suitable for all of our existing and future customers – and it’s best of breed thanks to all we've learned from interactions with them,” he adds. “This leads to ease of integration to the platform and other devices and peripherals, and maximum flexibility for operators in a complex and ever-changing environment.”


From General Dynamics

General Dynamics believes an increasing number of users across the globe will soon adopt the MESHnet product line given its extraordinary ability to integrate with any vehicle, connect through any communication bearer, host any C2 software, and interoperate with any systems deployed by allied nations.

MESHnet is bridging a capability gap in the current market with most existing systems being hyper-focused on operation with products produced by a single company, effectively minimising the ability for a diverse fleet of platforms with different systems to intercommunicate on the battlefield.

Communication silos present significant risks to soldiers and mission success. The MESHnet solution drastically improves and broadens communications by adopting open standards that allow it to flexibly connect with anything, anyone, anywhere in a secure, reliable, and robust manner.

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