In modern warfare, both allies and adversaries are in a race to achieve the best and most resilient methods of communication. Interceptions and detection are as much of a threat as invasion and physical conflict.
To protect forces and assets, and gain a tactical advantage, the defence industry must deploy connectivity systems they can be confident in. This means communication networks that have a low probability of detection (LPD), low probability of interception (LPI) and are jam resistant. They must also deliver high speed and low latency.
LPI or LPD?
I believe that, in tactical scenarios, LPD is the more important of the two. If you can’t detect a tactical team, you won’t be able to intercept and glean information from their communication!
Surprise is always a critical factor in battle. This is why detection is so important and why commanders don’t want their signals to be intercepted.
There are several ways to hide electronic emissions. Frequency hopping, signal energy spreading and antenna “nulls” are the bread and butter of LPD radio designers. Some tactical radios use all three techniques.
Another option is free space optics (FSO) with lasers rotating on the roof of a vehicle. However, FSO can be severely impacted by cloud, rain or heat haze reflections from a hot shimmering road.
Traditional Tactical Radio communications are good, but only up to a point. They are fine if your formation is On-The-Move, as the adversary’s artillery may not be quick enough to respond. However, sub 6-GHz radios (and Satcoms) At-The-Halt can be easily detected from modern tactical or airborne ESM systems and lethal munitions quickly directed at your position.
Utilisation of the V-band
Emerging technologies utilising V-band are proving to be ‘intrinsically LPD’ and provide stealthy communications. V-band is unique because its wavelength causes radio signals to resonate perfectly with oxygen molecules in the air – a phenomenon called oxygen absorption. The oxygen creates an intense spike in radio frequency attenuation that almost appears like a brick wall at a distance and creates a curtain of invisibility between a tactical team and its adversary. Within the V-band, connectivity truly has an LPD quality.
IEEE 5G mmWave technology is an example of technology utilising V-band. It provides high-performing, stealthy networks at the tactical edge. It can link manned or unmanned weapons platforms, and mobile command posts, and the technology has been proven in realistic operational scenarios.
We successfully completed a ground-breaking trial of our Tactical Vehicle Node in a series of simulated battlefield scenarios. The trials proved that IEEE 5G mmWave technology delivers effective tactical 5G in realistic scenarios, including in difficult terrain locations. Our Tactical Vehicle Nodes were placed on each vehicle, with a group of moving vehicles becoming a mmWave private network, meaning each vehicle’s node was connected to another vehicle in the field (within a 4km radius).
The evolving nature of the digital battlefield
In a battle, it is critical for any allied forces to be able to seamlessly communicate with each other – they must be able to adapt to the formations of their convoy as the situation demands and quickly and accurately call-in digital fire (a strike). It can be difficult to do this as GPS is easily jammed in a battlefield situation and therefore a target’s location cannot be precisely pinpointed. The military must therefore rely on coordinates from a traditional topographic (although now digitized) map.
In moments of battle, voices become raised, quicker and higher pitched, making it difficult for a tactical commander to gather the information needed to make a vital decision. The use of video is changing this as seeing the information with one’s own eyes makes it easier to understand a situation and allows for quicker and more accurate decision making. Put concisely, a few videos are easier to understand than multiple soldiers passing on just audio messages.
The future battlefield will use voice and video data provided by the frontline forces, together with drone ISR imagery. These sources create a much clearer battlefield picture which allows the commander to control troop movements and to digitally call-in fire support as required.
Currently, military forces still very much rely on voice communications to call in support. For the army of 2030 to be able to successfully request ‘digital fires’, there must be an advanced digital communications system – allowing the units near an adversary to be able to talk to each other.
One new method is the use of mobile phones connected to commercial networks to send an image that has important data concealed within it. By hiding in plain sight, military mobile users in dense urban areas are difficult to locate because of the number of commercial, civilian users. This tactic has been used successfully in urban guerrilla warfare.
Surprise and win
The most important element of an engagement with an adversary is surprise – if I know where the adversary is, then I can destroy it! The D-Day landings are a fine example of strategic surprise. The German forces knew that the Allies were coming but were not sure from which location. The use of decoys and false activity in Kent tricked the Germans into moving their troops away from the Normandy coast.
Modern day LPD connectivity can help provide the swift element of surprise with the use of modern communications architectures allowing covert operations. Self-configuring and self-healing wireless mesh networks support data-rich communications with potentially hundreds of vehicles becoming part of the network. This creates a robust interconnectivity where every warfighter on the battlefield can become a relay point for information sharing.
The combination of satellite and drones is the future
In the digital battlefield of the future, free space optics and mmWave technologies will be used in combination for stealthy Local Area Network (LAN) transmissions. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites will be used for longer range Wide Area Network (WAN) communications and multiple drones operating above the battlefield will combine to allow units to be linked across a range of over 20 kilometres.
It is also vital to future-proof military communications hardware by adhering to one of the two most widely adopted global standards for high-performance communications: IEEE 802 or 3GPP. Too many military operations are currently locked into proprietary technologies making them captive to the supplier. Military logistics leaders need to ensure the purchase of flexible systems that will allow for swift hardware and continuing feature upgrades as the digital battlefield develops over the coming years.
The full suite of communications
Every commander needs to have a full suite of communications information at their fingertips where voice and video data combine to provide a complete view of the digital battlefield. The Blu Wireless’ IEEE 5G mmWave technology provides a highly effective communications solution by facilitating the connectivity needs of a mobile command post, while delivering the flexibility and low probability of detection required by forces at the tactical edge.