Darpa mobile project preps 'soldier's radio'
By George Leopold , EE Times
Mar 21, 2001 (1:03 PM)
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
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.
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