Defence Business: Smart technologies on show at MilCIS | ADM December 2013/Janaury 2014
As always, MilCIS is the showcase for all things technical when it comes to military communications and information systems and the protection of such assets.
In Australia, Ultra Electronics is best known for their work on the AWD sonars, but the UK-based business brought out a number of business units for MilCIS this year. Benga Erinle, President of Ultra Electronics, 3eTI from the US was keen to highlight a number of US successes that have relevance for the Australian market.
Securing government and military installations is critical in protecting vital infrastructure, assets, and personnel. A Critical Area Protection Solution (CAPS) provides the means to monitor a physical location and the civilians, officials or soldiers working in it for potential threats. 3eTI offers a variety of wireless devices that can transmit video, audio, and other types of sensor data to a monitoring centre, so that staff can be alerted to respond to situations as needed.
Erinle and his team likened many computing systems to children; they need an adult around to tell them who can be trusted and what actions are acceptable. Using a blend of their EtherGuard and EnergyGuard products, protection of critical infrastructure from both internal and external threats can be monitored and responded to. Erinle outlined that when people think of protecting processes and computers, they tend to think of desktops, but these are only a minuscule part of the processors in use globally.
“For every desktop computer, there are about 100 computerised switches used by wider industry, including critical infrastructure such as water and power production,” Erinle told ADM.
Similar simple switches are used throughout military bases for example to control everything from heating and cooling to power supplies. Many of these switches in nondescript control panels are relatively easy to access by anyone entering a base and many have Ethernet accessibility. EtherGuard and EnergyGuard can work in tandem to stop actions outside given parameters and limit access to cleared parties.
Ray Munoz, vice president of strategic business development for Ultra Electronics Advanced Tactical Systems business outlined the gap that they’ve helped fill for the US Air Force with their TACPOD on unmanned systems.
“TACPOD hosts a range of tactical datalinks, radios and other communications forms (8-10 streams per pod) that enable a medium size UAV, such as a Reaper, to become a mini AWACs or communications node for ground forces,” Munoz said.
The USAF requirement needed a system that would not interfere with the mission control system of the UAS. The TACPOD system incorporates Ultra’s air defence systems integrator software and includes a collection of data radios and other components that are mission-defined voice and software communications architecture compliant. Ultra’s TACPOD mid-tier aerial relay communication node enables users to share a single common operational picture and situational awareness on normally incompatible networks. The system has been delivered and tested (thanks to a $US25 million production contract awarded in May last year) but due to sequestration cuts, the pod has yet to be deployed. Munoz was unable to comment on what the future of the program would look like under these circumstances.
Cost effective satcoms
When it comes to getting satellite time, it’s a numbers game. How many satellites are available? What’s the bandwidth? Data costs? And the business model for many companies also has to accommodate the huge costs of building and launching said satellites with costs amortised over long periods. For example, an Inmarsat satellite costs about $650 million for the satellite alone.
O3B Networks is introducing a new model. With plans for an initial constellation of 12 satellites in mid orbit, they can build each satellite for about $40 million and launch four at a time. The first four Ka-band satellites built by Thales Alenia Space are already in orbit, launched in June 2013, with another four soon to be on their way in 2014.
The narrow beams at mid orbit around the equator are transmitted to ground stations around the world (built at between $5-7 million where land costs are the major cost driver) situated on top of local fibre networks.
“What’s the point of getting massive amounts of data down to earth if you can’t transmit it to where it needs to go cheaply and quickly?” O3B Networks executive vice president ‘D’ D’Ambrosio told ADM.
“It’s radio, but not as you know it,” Inmarsat’s vice president of Global Government Solutions, Todd McDonell said.
McDonell was referring to L-TAC, a new L-band service from Inmarsat that delivers a tactical satellite communications capability for use with existing military UHF radios by approved government customers.
McDonnel says the L–TAC system is designed to be used with all military UHF radios and can be used in areas where military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) systems are unavailable of oversubscribed.
“UHF MILSATCOM is sometimes hard to come by,” he explained. “The Indian Ocean may be well covered for example, but if you turn up somewhere else, you have to see if you have access to UHF channels.”
To use LTAC, all that is required is a converter box, which takes UHF radio output and converts it to L-Band, and an antenna. There are no controls on the box itself which has only RF connections and a DC power input.
“It basically takes the output from a UHF radio, feeds the output of the radio into the converter box and we convert the UHF radio frequency straight into the L Band satellite data and beam it to the satellite on a frequency that we have on offer,” he said. “So we allocate one of our channels to the user and we just tell the UHF radio operator what frequency to dial up on his radio.”
L-TAC can also support data as well as voice and McDonell said that Inmarsat is developing a VHF version, following requests from the market and other customers, including the ADF, had asked about a single frequency to solve a particular problem.