WASHINGTON The Pentagon's research agency is preparing to demonstrate a "soldier's radio" next year designed to provide mobile communications among individual troops anywhere on the battlefield. The "infrastructure-free" radio network will be based on the Linux operating system and will support multiple StrongARM processors, program officials said.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa; Arlington, Va.) said it plans to demonstrate the infantry radio concept in the field as early as the summer of 2002. The mobile-radio program, which seeks to provide each soldier with a high-data-rate cell phone, would rely on "extreme frequency agility" and a new networking approach to link infantry units spread out over a wide area.
The "soldier's radio" is being developed by a contractor team led by ITT Aerospace and Communications (Fort Wayne, Ind.). ITT is working with MontaVista Software Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) to port embedded Linux to StrongARM processors. Darpa has adopted Linux as part of an open-systems approach to technology development.
Much of the impetus for the tactical radio program stems from the explosion of mobile communications in the commercial world. "People always ask why there are no cell phones in the field," said Paul Kolodzy, a program manager in Darpa's Advanced Technology Office. The reason, of course, is that there are no relay towers or basestations on the battlefield.
The Darpa mobile-communications program, also know as the "situational awareness system," would use high-capacity, low-power radios linked together by a "self-configuring" network to keep soldiers connected with each other at frequencies ranging from 20 MHz to 2.5 GHz. Kolodzy called the architecture a "mobile, ad-hoc, peer-to-peer network" that uses frequency-hopping technology to avoid communication intercepts and location-finding capability in other words, situational awareness on the battlefield but little power.
If deployed, the system could be scaled up to as many as 10,000 network nodes. The reconfigurable network would have to perform geographical routing of mobile communications via network gateways. "How you do the geo-routing is the biggest deal," Kolodzy said.
The planned technology demonstration next year would link 70 prototype radios over a network utilizing MontaVista's Hard Hat version of the standard Linux kernel and other open-source components, as well as StrongARM processors, DSPs and FPGAs. All hardware was chosen to reduce power consumption in the field.
The first beta version of the soldier's radio is expected to be ready by the end of the year, program officials said.
The field tests will help determine whether the radios can avoid enemy jamming, estimate a soldier's position when the global positioning system isn't available and provide a link between soldiers and battlefield sensors. Moreover, developers will determine whether they can keep the network operating in battlefield scenarios ranging from jungles to congested urban areas.
Potential users of the soldier's radio include the Army, Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Forces, Darpa said.
Program officials and contractors are also touting the mobile-communications program as an example of how commercial equipment based on open-source systems can be used to get new systems to the field faster and at lower cost. For example, ITT and MontaVista said they were able to speed technology development by porting Linux to StrongARM processors.