As technology continues to evolve, we’ve entered an era where missions on the battlefield require access to several different hardware and software systems. The result is an overabundance of sensor feeds, lack of connectivity at the tactical edge, congested /contested networks, and many other complications. In an effort to address the ever-changing challenges of war and modernize programs, the U.S. Army announced a plan to unify the network. This concept enables forces to integrate and operate seamlessly across all domains, all geographies, and all warfighting functions. With the introduction of this new strategy, defense technology providers are developing new capabilities to integrate communications.
Recently, we sat down with Keith Blanchet, Ultra Intelligence & Communications’ vice president of business development of Communications, to get more details about the U.S. Army’s Unified Network strategy and how Ultra Intelligence & Communication is supporting this effort.
Ultra I&C: What is the U.S. Army’s Unified Network strategy as Ultra I&C understands it?
Blanchet: The Unified Network approach is intended to streamline the overall network, including hardware, software, and infrastructure to extend the range of connectivity and increase the speed of operations. The Army’s Unified Network plan focuses on building readiness, modernizing network strategies, reforming the Army, and strengthening alliances and partnerships. A unified network will provide an overall network that can handle latest generation applications, is integrated across all echelons, is cross-domain and easier to maintain.
Ultra I&C: How would a perfectly unified network work?
Blanchet: There are currently many networking issues that a Unified Network strategy aims to solve. Forces on the move don’t always have access to the network due to out-of-range issues, light-of-sight issues, or high levels of congestion. Without pervasive network access, forces are vulnerable, they can’t receive critical mission information or transmit relevant operational intelligence. The second major problem is that different elements of the armed forces often use different equipment, frequencies and communication protocols, making it very challenging to enable multi-domain communications. A unified network aims to improve the overall performance of the network, provide redundancy and enable multi-domain communications by ensuring all forces are using the same base equipment sets and network management applications.
Ultra I&C: What are the benefits of a unified network?
Blanchet: The unified network is designed to provide a seamless, integrated network management capability to simplify user experience, increase situational awareness and strengthen cyber network defense. A unified network consolidates network management and monitoring applications to enhance the ability to plan, configure, manage, monitor, and secure the network. By using a common set of networking principles and equipment, forces can easily move in and out of the theatre of operations and have confidence that their communication capabilities will work.
Ultra I&C: How is Ultra I&C supporting the Unified Network initiative?
Blanchet: Ultra I&C has been at the forefront of tactical communications innovation for decades and we have been very vocal about the benefits of a unified network strategy. In order to directly support the U.S. Army’s Unified Network plan, we have been developing extremely low-SWAP tactical communications solutions for deployment virtually anywhere to provide ubiquitous network access. The new solutions will support all the legacy waveforms in use today and will accept new waveforms in development, in addition to supporting multiple waveform channels–a key benefit our end-users appreciate. The new platforms will facilitate ATQH (At-the-quick-halt) and mobile operation of networks currently restricted to ATH (At-the-Halt) areas of operation. The main benefit of these new platforms is that it speeds up deployment of network assets by no longer requiring the time and manpower to deploy large mast deployed systems, while still providing high network speeds. Ultra I&C’s solutions will be Vertical Height Antenna (VHA) compatible.
The second main initiative from Ultra I&C to support the Unified Network plan is the development and incorporation of Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning technology into the radio platforms to ensure resiliency and performance. Ultra I&C’s AI/ML strategy is industry leading and leads the way in areas such as Cognitive Frequency Hopping, Waveform Topology Management and Spectrum Monitoring & Classification. We will implement the AI/ML technology in a way that will assist a human-in-the-loop and simplify overall network management tasks, including AutoPACE. The AI/ML technology is real and is being demonstrated to key customers this year.
The third initiative is to integrate Ultra I&C’s communications capability with our proven Command, Control, Cyber & Intelligence (C3I) solutions to provide secure, ubiquitous MDO data-centric distribution. This was demonstrated during Project Convergence 22 in which a Joint Air Picture provided by Ultra I&C’s ADSI solution was distributed to the tactical edge over existing TriLOS and tactical mesh radio networks.
Ultra I&C: How is Ultra I&C’s approach different than other providers?
Blanchet: Ultra I&C’s approach to industry differs in that we don’t compete with other suppliers; we work with them in partnership by integrating their waveforms into our platforms to provide user choice. As missions have diverse user and network requirements, Ultra I&C ensures our platforms maintain an open, modular approach in order to accept new waveform software. We have very open, flexible architecture and an adaptable platform so we're able to introduce new modems and support a multitude of waveforms. Ultra I&C has the ability to easily integrate new systems without having to re-architect the platform or recreate the network from scratch.
Ultra I&C: Any final thoughts regarding these steps for modernization?
Blanchet: Ultra I&C’s goal is to make it easier for deployed military forces to communicate and achieve their mission objectives. Our solutions have been trusted for over fifty years by the U.S. Army and other users to provide the backbone elements of a deployed network in support of military operations worldwide. Our next generation platforms with integrated AI features will extend networks to provide on-the-move, highly mobile, secure communications capability with the reliability our users have come to expect from Ultra I&C.
To learn more about how Ultra Intelligence & Communications continues to support the Unified Network approach, contact our team today.