Using Drones as Wireless Hotspots on the Battlefield

An avionics maintenance technician pushes an RQ7-B drone back to the taxiway after landing

2nd Marine Aircraft Wing & Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point by Pfc. Victor Arriaga

AA Font size + Print

An avionics maintenance technician pushes an RQ7-B drone back to the taxiway after landing

Repurposing aging surveillance drones into high-bandwidth hotspots will ensure troops have wireless access in the most remote places on earth. By Frank Konkel

A small collection of aging surveillance drones are about to have something in common with a typical Starbucks: the ability to provide high-speed Wi-Fi access.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is a step closer to perfecting the repurposing of aging surveillance drones into high-bandwidth mobile hotspots designed to ensure warfighters have aerial Wi-Fi access in the most remote places on Earth.

As one might expect, the technology behind DARPA’s effort through its Mobile Hotspots program is a little more complex than the coffee shop’s.

The agency is outfitting retired SRQ-7 Shadow drones that once gleaned information for the Army above the Middle East with lightweight pods that contain the technology necessary to provide soldiers with a gigabit-per-second connection to forward-operating bases, operations centers and fix communications centers through what DARPA calls a millimeter-wave backbone network.

All told, the pod is eight inches wide and about 20 pounds – its small stature is important given that RQ-7 Shadows weigh less than 200 pounds – yet in announcing the completion the first phase of the three-phase Mobile Hotspots program, DARPA said it has achieved millimeter-wave amplification capabilities sufficient to provide high-capacity connectivity at distances greater than 50 kilometers.

“We’re pleased with the technical achievements we’ve seen so far in steerable millimeter-wave antennas and millimeter-wave amplifier technology,” said Dick Ridgway, DARPA program manager, said in a statement. “These successes — and the novel networking approaches needed to maintain these high-capacity links — are key to providing forward deployed units with the same high-capacity connectivity we all enjoy over our 4G cellphone networks.”

In its announcement, DARPA signaled it had developed “mobile ad-hoc networking approaches” to maintain the high-capacity backhaul network on mobile air and ground platforms, utilizing “unique solutions” to overcome challenges warfighters would face in connectivity, topology or terrain.

DARPA began work on the program’s second phase in March, and aims to integrate its phase-one technologies into “Shadow-compatible aerial pods and ground vehicles,” culminating with a demonstration of “at least four Shadow-compatible pods, two ground vehicles and a fixed ground node.”

A third phase would see DARPA field test Mobile Hotspot systems on networks of multiple drones and mobile ground vehicles. 

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.