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Resilient Directional Mesh Enhanced Tactical Airborne Networks



OBJECTIVE: Develop reliable and resilient directional airborne networking technologies to support enhanced and assured mission success while maintaining backward compatibility with data link technologies currently in use by airborne platforms. 

DESCRIPTION: The United States military faces an operating environment characterized by increased uncertainty, complexity, rapid change, and persistent conflict, such as in an Anti-access and Area Denial (A2AD) environment. The Air Force has established a goal of extending and augmenting space and surface network to connect, reconnect and enable collaboration of warfighters executing specific missions. This goal requires that serial layer networks have the attributes of scalability, flexibility, robustness, and responsiveness. However, current advanced serial data links, such as the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), can only form a linear network topology (i.e. a daisy chain) and provide limited airborne networking capability. This linear topology is well suited for a network with a small number of nodes; but as network size increases, this topology becomes undesirable due to the excessive increase in latency as well as the amount of bandwidth consumed by relaying traffic over multiple hops of the daisy chain. Moreover, a disruption or breakdown of any link in the delay chain will directly lead to disrupted communication and network partition. Such linear networks are especially vulnerable and fragile in an A2AD environment and can pose severe network reliability issues. The current data link (such as MADL) is not scalable or reliable or flexible, and it cannot perform network self-healing. This inadequacy is detrimental for fighting battles in a highly contested area that requires highly dynamic maneuvers, and would significantly reduce next-generation airborne network connectivity and effectiveness. This topic seeks for innovative directional networking technologies with necessary provable capabilities to address current and future airborne networks challenges. Example capabilities include (but are not limited to) directional routing, Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), joint power-data adaptation, topology management, and low probability of detection (LPI/LPD) connectivity to improve airborne network communications and effectiveness facing A2AD dynamics. The proposed technologies need to stay compatible with legacy capabilities (such as the ability to form a daisy-chain topology), as well as to offer Partial Mesh (PM) capability, which enables platforms to alter their network formation in response to platform mobility and other dynamics rapidly and reliably. This topic seeks a software-based solution without the need to change the communication hardware of the targeted airborne data link, e.g., MADL., it is anticipated that tactical data link physical layer default settings, such as the allowable range of frequency band, power, apertures, etc. will not be changed to maintain backward compatibility. Mature prototype with relatively higher technology readiness lever (TRL) is expected for potential technology insertion and program integration towards the end of the performance period. 

PHASE I: Identify viable approaches to directional airborne networking with reliable self-healing capabilities. Generate the system design of the directional airborne networking technologies that can significantly improve networking reliability, resiliency, and flexibility without negative impact on LPI/LPD of the targeted airborne data link. Quantify the benefits, such as improved networking reliability and reduced end-to-end delay using analysis and simulations/emulations, accounting for practical implementation constraints. 

PHASE II: Implement the technology into a software prototype without changing the hardware of the targeted airborne data link (government will provide H/W and S/W specifications of targeted data link). Demonstrated and validatethe prototype system with radio elements in an emulated and operationally relevant environment. Demonstrate conclusively the expected benefits and the interoperability with existing tactical data links. 

PHASE III: Demonstrate a field-ready software system with mature implementation in relevant operational environment. Perform technology insertion and program integration. The high reliable directional LPI/LPD networking technologies can benefit the commercial telecommunications world. 


1. Pan Li, Chi Zheng, and Yuguang Fang, "The Capacity of Wireless Ad Hoc Networks Using Directional Antennas,"

2. T. Schug, C. Dee, N. Harshman, R. Merrell, "Air Force aerial Layer Networking transformation initiatives," IEEE Military Communications Conference, Nov. 2011.


KEYWORDS: Tactical Airborne Networks, Mesh Networks, Directionaldatalink, Backward Compatibility, Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), Experimentation 

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