In-Touch and In-Sync – Modern Naval Communications

22 March 2011 (Last Updated March 22nd, 2011 18:30)

Asymmetric warfare, especially in littoral and subsea zones, has created new demands for naval communication. Albrecht Muller reports on how new operational requirements are shaping the future of naval communications and networking.

In-Touch and In-Sync – Modern Naval Communications

The multidimensional role of naval forces has always required a great deal of communicational flexibility and the need for advanced networking and today's evolving battlespace poses even greater challenges. The need to operate within blue water zones as well as subsurface and in the air extends now into littoral zones where navies are increasingly being called on to counter growing threats such as drug smuggling and piracy.

The scale of operations has also increased in complexity due to vast amounts of communications data being collected by new tools such as unmanned vehicles.

Command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems are increasingly coming into play resulting in growing research into communications and networking.

Different communication requirements

Today's naval C4ISR systems must ensure secure and stable connections between various users. Each one has different requirements, like real time access to ground based databases, voice and video communications, remote maintenance and sensor data exchanges between ships or from ship to shore. For this the systems have to manage the data flow via robust networks, dynamically managing and assigning connections, spectrum or bandwidth.

For transmission today's fleets mostly rely on radio as well as satellite technologies. The later is the backbone for controlling and connecting platforms around the world, and so major efforts are underway to increase the bandwidth of today's satellites and their electromagnetic radio waves.

"Today's naval C4ISR systems must ensure secure and stable connections between various users."

Joint tactical radio for the US military

The next major research step for the US Army and Navy is the introduction of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). A software-defined radio (SDR) for voice and data transmission, the JTRS is designed to work with many existing military and civilian radios. It includes integrated encryption and wideband networking software to create mobile ad hoc networks. An SDR in general is capable of covering different waveforms and functions.

Some of the most challenging network requirements are those between submarine fleets. Most solutions so far are based on buoys and are typically one-way. While keeping factors like speed, depth and specifically stealth in mind, developers are trying to integrate modern satellite communication, higher data rates and two-way networked capabilities into submerged communication.

Different networks can present a problem

A fast, secure and stable connectivity between different users on the platform is crucial for an effective C4ISR. Today's naval vessels for instance can have several dozen different networks on board and have to deal with yet more on on-shore installations, which are not always directly compatible. The result is that data is severely slowed down, but this can also present other problems such as increasing the costs of maintaining and updating individual parts.

"The new German Sabrina 21 will replace their earlier central CMS."

The US Navy, therefore, is currently working on the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES), which will provide a common computing environment infrastructure for C4ISR applications that currently require system specific infrastructure to operate legacy systems. The system will rely on the computing techniques of virtualisation and cloud computing, in which applications are delivered over a network rather than being tied to specific computers.

The CANES migration

The introduction of CANES will begin in 2012 with the installation on unit level ships of two engineering development model installations, followed by limited deployment installations in 2012 that will cover force level ships, shore sites and additional unit level ships. In the end CANES is supposed to be deployed over more than 190 ships, submarines and maritime operations centres by 2021, with 46 applications being scheduled to migrate to the system.

According to the US Navy's Team SPAWAR, CANES will take advantage of the new business model of open architecture, service oriented architecture, and rapid commercial off-the-shelf insertion, in order to bring fiscal savings to the Navy, as well as operational agility to the warfighter.

According to Lockheed Martin, the head of one of the two industrial teams, CANES will amongst other things, eliminate legacy, standalone networks with a single, responsive information technology platform, thereby reducing infrastructure size and increasing reliability and networking capabilities.

Their competitor Northrop Grumann is also intent on achieving a reduction of costs and manpower through common hardware, software, logistics and training as part of its tender portfolio.

"Connected via high-speed data-links, Sabrina 21 is operated with various multipurpose consoles."

At the heart - combat management systems

Combining all the information from different sensors and UAV / UUV sources into a real time situational picture and helping the crew to react is the task of the combat management systems (CMS). Swedish company Saab's 9LV CMS system for instance features a performance-based engagement-planning function for anti-air warfare, which is based on probability calculations and will optimise survivability by evaluating all possible threat-engagement combinations using all combinations of sensors and weapons, including ship manoeuvre.

One goal with designing today's CMS is to fully integrate all sensors and effectors with a flexibility to allow every workstation in the operation room to perform every role. The system-architectures will become more and more fully distributed, with consoles connected via high-speed data networks, embodying commercial, off-the-shelf products. Open architecture and off-the-shelf products are also supposed to make updates easier in the future as naval vessels have life cycles of up to 30 years and today's software and computing system up to one or two years.

Germany invests in a new CMS

The German Navy for example is currently running an upgrade program for its older F123 type frigates. They will get outfitted with a new CMS by Thales. Partly based on Thales Netherland's TACTICOS systems the new German Sabrina 21 will replace their earlier central CMS and integrate almost all sensors, weapons and communication systems into a single, distributed system with new system hardware and software as well as mission software and open gateways.

It will also be allocated on different processors throughout the ship to make it more redundant. Connected via high-speed data-links, Sabrina 21 is operated with various multipurpose consoles.

All naval communication and operation systems have one thing in common today: they have to be able to act in a joint and multinational environment in an increasingly network-centric environment. We can trust that this situation, especially in light of increased cooperation between navies, will become even more important in future.