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Utilizing Mesh-Networking for Greater Maritime Situational Awareness from Vertical Lift Aircraft


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Integrated Network Systems-of-Systems The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws. OBJECTIVE: Develop an innovative solution utilizing low, medium, and high bandwidth mesh networking radios that could be deployed from a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft during an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission to improve maritime situational awareness. DESCRIPTION: Modern technology allows for innovative new-use cases for low-cost mesh-networking radios to perform tasks for maritime situational awareness during missions such as ASW/anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) amongst other critical key naval activities. With availability of components to construct new innovations in communications technology that can be deployed from Vertical Lift aircraft by means such as AN/ALE-47 flare dispensers, canister configurations, or door thrown deployment methods to provide floating mesh-networking nodes; greater maritime situational awareness methods are now possible at a lower cost. In an ASW exemplary use case, types of sonobuoys can include, but are not limited to, active and passive sonar capabilities to allow a wide swath of maritime area to be monitored and a greater magazine depth of sensors per Vertical Lift platform without the use of any tethered system traditionally used. In addition, the ability for floating mesh-networking nodes, allow greater Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) across the Joint Force and coalition partners. This SBIR topic addresses the need to design and test basic mesh-networked nodes on the ocean surface in meaningful naval use-cases. Such radios can include, but are not limited to, existing COTS/MIL mesh-networking radios that exist such as: (a) High Frequency radios can be considered, but power and antennae analysis must be included in the design (atmospheric bounce – low bandwidth), (b) Somewear Labs (satellite mesh-networking – low bandwidth), (c) goTenna/Beartooth (UHF/VHF mesh-networking – low bandwidth), (d) Doodle Labs/Trellisware/Persistent Systems/Silvus (UHF mesh networking – medium to high bandwidth), and (e) Banshee (5G mesh networking – medium to high bandwidth). Following deployment of maritime surface relevant payloads, the communications systems need to demonstrate their ability to mesh-network based on terrestrial limits, mesh-network via satellite/airborne node (e.g., UAV/high-altitude balloon/manned aircraft), and its ability to provide data reach back over multiple ‘hops’ to allow standoff detection capability from a distance for naval forces. The floating communications system should operate for a useful time measure in the maritime environment (e.g., 24 hrs [threshold]/7 days [objective]). Design solutions should consider the following three areas: 1) sonobuoy payload performance objectives, 2) communications/mesh-networking performance, and 3) overall conceptual system survivability in a maritime environment. These areas are described in more detail below: Area #1 Sonobuoy Payload Performance Objectives: (a) Size, Weight, Power, Cost projections (SWaP-C) of the floating communications mesh networked proposed system; to include various sizes as noted previously, ALE, Canister, and hand-thrown systems, proposed CONOPs or uses-cases and description of employment and health of overall mesh-network to assist in achieving relevant maritime domain objectives, and (b) reliably deployed in sea-state conditions 0 through 5 (international scale), with estimations of their communications ability in calm to severe weather. Area #2 Communication/s mesh-networking performance: (a) predicted terrestrial mesh-networking ranges and bandwidth at-sea, (b) predicted terrestrial mesh-networking ranges and bandwidth at-sea with UAV/high-altitude balloon/satellites, (c) range and data budgets provided at range and over multi-hop mesh-networking scenarios; graceful degradation of ‘useful’ notional payload information, (d) address potential Primary/Alternate/Contingency/Emergency (PACE) combined mesh-networking options, and (e) unique undersea communications relays will be considered, but are not primary to this topic (e.g., floating payload to unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) to floating payload communications—acoustic). Area #3 Overall conceptual system survivability in a maritime environment: (a) utilizing Area #1 and Area #2 describe the overall system performance characteristics conceptually (i.e., duration of sensor, communications capabilities in various maritime environments, storage and shelf-life of sensor/mesh-network radio), (b) complete conceptual design and employment of sensor uses for VTOL aircraft, and (c) initial costs for low rate initial production (LRIP) and full-rate production costs. Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by DoD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) formerly Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances. This will allow contractor personnel to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DCSA and NAVAIR in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advanced phases of this contract. PHASE I: Develop, initial design, and demonstrate the feasibility of a mesh-networked floating communications payload and design. Identify the three areas conceptually to understand the technological and reliability challenges of the design and approach, and risk mitigation steps. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II. PHASE II: Design, fabricate, and deliver units (minimum of three) of mesh-networked floating payloads/communications systems based on the design from Phase I. Test and fully characterize the system prototype in a controlled environment to determine limitations of the system, in anticipation of greater testing in Phase III with naval forces in a relevant DoD sponsored exercise. Work in Phase II may become classified. Please see note in the Description paragraph. PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Product should be interoperable with United States Navy (USN)/United States Marine Corps (USMC) and Joint Force C4I systems and will be utilized in a greater DoD sponsored exercise held by the USN or USMC to demonstrate the capability to the naval forces. Testing will be overseen by the USN and USMC to assess the new capability in an operationally relevant test area (likely CONUS waters).) The ability to demonstrate reachback capability for USN/USMC assets will be critical to show success of the network. Upon successful testing and demonstration in a relevant exercise, in full or in part, the prototypes should be delivered to the sponsoring agency or Program Management Activity that decides to take the final technology package forward. Commercial and dual-use applications can include, but not limited to, emergency communications for ships in transit or in distress, monitoring of marine mammal life, and creating bandwidth in large maritime areas for communications where satellite coverage could be lacking. Such technology developed under this SBIR topic could greatly assist with not only a DoD mission of maritime awareness, but civilian and environmental research as well. REFERENCES: 1. Cilfone, A., Davoli, L., Belli, L., & Ferrari, G. (2019). Wireless mesh networking: An IoT-oriented perspective survey on relevant technologies. Future Internet 2019,11(4), 99. 2. Pike, J. (2000). AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispense system (CMDS). FAS Military Analysis Network. 3. L3Harris Technologies, Inc. (n.d.). Sonobuoy launching system. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from 4. Holler, R. A. (2014). The evolution of the sonobuoy from World War II to the cold war. NAVMAR Applied Sciences Corp Warminster PA. 5. Commotion Wireless. (n.d.). Guidelines for mesh networks. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from 6. Cisco Systems, Inc. (2015). Cisco wireless mesh access points, design and deployment guide, release 8.0. KEYWORDS: MANET; mesh-networking; payloads; sensors; communications; JADC2; maritime domain awareness
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