ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 29, 2020) -- The Army is examining ways to bring improved directional beamforming technology to the battlefield within the next five years.
The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center – a component of Army Futures Command’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) – is using next-generation network technology to improve how efficiently directional beamforming uses electromagnetic spectrum resources and to reduce the size, weight, power consumption and cost of the technology.
Directional beamforming focuses a wireless signal toward a specific receiving device, rather than having the signal spread in all directions from a broadcast antenna, as it normally would.
Dan Duvak, chief of the C5ISR Center’s Radio Frequency Communications (RFC) Division, said historically, the cost to develop directional beamforming systems was high because the need for multiple, large antenna elements required more materials to be purchased.
To reduce the size, weight and cost of directional beamforming systems, the C5ISR Center is using commercially available 5G millimeter wave technology, due to its high frequency output and smaller size, which allows for easier integration of the systems on to Army platforms.
“Millimeter wave technology is critical because the small size of the antenna elements enables us to put hundreds of antennas all on the size of an area comparable to a postcard, making it easy to integrate,” Duvak said.
The Center’s goal is to have the improved beamforming technology included in Capability Set 25 – a collection of network capability enhancements informed by experimentation, demonstration and direct Soldier feedback, scheduled to be fielded in 2025.
Michael Monteleone, the C5ISR Center’s director of Space and Terrestrial Communications, said upgraded directional beamforming will make tactical communications more efficient than traditional broadcast antennas in terms of spectrum use, enabling the Army to “use and simultaneously reuse every bit of spectrum allocated.”
The C5ISR Center is collaborating with the Army’s cross-functional teams (CFTs) for Network, Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV), as well as federal and industry partners, to develop the versatile technology, which can be integrated onto multiple platforms.
According to Robert Bray, who leads the FVL CFT’s Aerial Low Probability of Intercept and Detection Division, one potential application of directional beamforming is to increase the communications range between aerial platforms, due to its ability to change the focus of an antenna’s radiated energy.
“In a multi-domain battle, where the frontline extends not tens of, but hundreds of miles, our communications systems will need to have reach,” said Bray, whose team routinely works with the C5ISR Center to provide an aviation perspective.
Similarly, the NGCV CFT is working with the C5ISR Center to apply beamforming communications to ground and air robotic combat vehicles, giving Soldiers the ability to move unmanned systems into adversarial territory while still maintaining communication with them.
Like other 5G-enabled wireless technologies, directional beamforming is regarded as a technology that can enhance network resiliency. It is also perceived as a solution to one of the biggest challenges the Army faces in terms of communications: the coexistence of multiple, stand-alone wireless networks.
“The challenge is being able to take each of these unique solutions and have them be integrated in a single network that is transparent to the user,” said Seth Spoenlein, the C5ISR Center’s senior scientific technical manager for Integrated Networks.
He said the C5ISR Center, the Network CFT and Program Executive Office Command, Control Communications-Tactical are in “a close partnership,” which will be critical in transitioning C5ISR Center-developed capabilities to a program of record and, ultimately, fielding.
Michael Schwartz, CCDC science and technology advisor to the Network CFT, said those efforts are well underway.
“The Network CFT is already exploring and demonstrating in directional beamforming with the C5ISR Center and will begin experimenting with applications of this technology in fiscal year 2021,” he said.
For more information, contact the C5ISR Center Public Affairs Office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The C5ISR Center is the Army’s applied research and advanced technology development center for C5ISR capabilities. As the Army’s primary integrator of C5ISR technologies and systems, the center develops and matures capabilities that support all six Army modernization priorities, enabling information dominance and tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter.
The C5ISR Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.