You are here

Optical Backbone Networks for Army Aviation


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Electronics 

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this program is to design and develop the key network components of a fiber optics based open systems architecture based network for military rotorcraft that will support the integration and qualification of current and future high bandwidth real-time (and near real time) mission systems. 

DESCRIPTION: Optical based interconnects have been used effectively for years in the telecommunications industry and commercial aircraft and are beginning to be applied to some fixed-wing military aircraft. Currently the commercial aviation systems uses fiber optics for non flight or critical components. On large aircraft (Boeing and Airbus airliners), fiber optics and photonics are implemented but do not have the size, weight, power, and cooling constraints that exist on smaller rotorcraft. In addition these aircraft do not have the environmental and safety qualifications requirements for mission systems on military rotorcraft. The environment encountered (especially vibration) on military rotorcraft is more severe than that found in these other applications which limits the applicability of certain of the technologies. Conditions where maintenance is performed is potentially much more austere than where fixed-wing operations occur which thereby demands a more robust approach to repair and diagnosis of faulty equipment as well. Cost is also more of a factor when considering application to Army helicopters than it is to high performance fixed wing aircraft. The DoD rotorcraft community has been investigating solutions to many of these issues through development of more durable technologies and repair techniques, but as yet has not been able to field photonics due to the risks involved. Offerors should consider numerous characteristics of the network and components (transceiver and I/O cards). The network should be scalable and secure and be able to handle multiple levels of secure information as the aircraft will need to interface with Joint and Coalition Forces as well as civil entities. The network should have simplified management functions to ease in the upgradability of the system. The backbone network should offer a SWAP (Size Weight and Power) improvement over current copper based architectures. The fiber optics network should be a fault tolerant architecture and should offer redundancy and reliability improvements over current systems. The network can use Wavelength Division Multiplexing or other network methodologies. The solution should use commercially supported standards. Current components are to large and do not meet the full suite of required shock and vibration testing as described in MIL-STD-810F. The components developed under the Phase 1 or Phase 11 of this proposal will not need to pass full MIL-STD-461E and MIL-STD-810F testing environments, however, they will need to be able to address the shock and vibration profiles that may be encountered on Army Aviation platforms. The components should be developed with a plan to eventually address Army Aviation airworthiness concerns. 

PHASE I: The contractor will conduct a feasibility study and identify and/or design the key components (transceiver, I/O cards for current and future LRU's). The focus of this effort should be for high-bandwidth real-time (or near real-time) sensor data to include: potential LIDAR data, HD sensors, off-board streaming video, compressed and un-compressed video feeds, Radio Frequency (RF) Sensors, EO/IR sensor balls, Distributed Aperture Sensors, data links (SATCOM, TCDL, etc.), Millimeter Wave Radars, helmet mounted displays, 3-D visualization technologies, advanced displays, and other not yet realized capabilities. Each of these sources of data can start as low as 1-2 Mbps and reach data rates up to 8 Gbps. The network components will need to be able to handle data rates between 10-20 Gbps. Since many systems are used for real time situational awareness. Latency of less then 0.1ms would be ideal (with a goal to reach <5 microseconds. The contractor will ensure that it meets the performance and SWAP requirements for the chosen systems and the intended platform. The offeror should identify key components of the desired infrastructure. The proposed architecture implementation should be scalable. Required deliverables will include a conceptual network design and recommendations for future technology investment. The contractor may propose a proof of concept demo of any single component. 

PHASE II: The contractor will perform a detailed design of the components and integration into an aviation mission processing architecture. The contractor will draft test plans and procedures, fabricate prototype components, and test the prototype system and procedures in a relevant operating environment. All components within this network should be on a development path to meet the qualification standards required by the Army. The components will NOT need to meet a full airworthiness qualification package. The contractor will also verify the scalability of the system by demonstrating a scenario whereby there are a minimal number of connections and the network grows to a number which represents a considerable implementation of a back-bone architecture. The ability to perform Built in Test and/or fault detection is a desirement of the final solution. The offeror will validate the design and implementation approach. 

PHASE III: The contractor will demonstrate potential application of the component(s) developed as part of a notional backbone network to other DoD aviation and ground weapon systems and to commercial aviation. Potential customers of this system will be both rotorcraft and fixed wing aviation for both military and commercial applications. The commercial aviation industry (helicopters and fixed wing will be key users of the technology). In addition there are many ground based platforms within the US Army and Marines that require high-bandwidth, real time information exchange that could utilize the technologies. The US Navy could utilize the technologies developed on ships and boats and this could transition to the commercial maritime market as well. 


1: FACE (

2:  Hardware Open Systems Technology (HOST) Tier 1 and Tier 2 standards. (this is an ongoing development effort within NAVAIR and contracted with GTRI. Information is available and approved for public release also see VITA website)

3:  MIL-STD-461E

4:  MIL-STD-810F

5:  MIL-STD-1678 (Fiber optic cabling requirements)

6:  MIL-PRF-49291/1B (Fiber requirements)

7:  The DARPA Network Enabled Wavelength Division Multiplexing - Highly Integrated Photonics (NEW-HIP) program.

8:  Ongoing Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) initiative.

9:  Joint Fiber Optic Working Group (JFOWG) (

KEYWORDS: Optical Backbone, Network, Open Systems 


Linda Ta 

(256) 876-2883 

US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government