Cognitive radios would give future warfighters upper hand

Smart radios could do everything but turn themselves on -- if Army researchers can make them a reality.

In the future, soldiers on the ground may need to do only one thing for a range of radio operations: turn on the equipment.

Once engaged, the so-called cognitive radios would be able to detect other radios it should be communicating with, discern what frequencies to use and sense jamming. The software-defined radios would have a simple interface with no knobs, according to its developers.

The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, holds that as a vision. CERDEC, the Army’s information technologies and integrated systems RD&E center located at Fort Monmouth, N.J., Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. and Fort Belvoir, Va., is working on making it a reality.

Tim Leising, team lead for the Software-Defined Radio Lab at CERDEC, said his team is building a test platform for future intelligent radios, using open architecture as a key part of the approach so counterparts across the military could remotely access the platform over network connections.

“We’re investigating the possibilities for future radios,” Leising said. “We’re trying to show the Defense Department that the concept of intelligent radio is possible. We’re trying to get the soldier a radio that they don’t have to fiddle with; all they have to do is turn it on.”

Leising said all the hardware is in-house for the modular, 64-node intelligent radio testbed that is currently under construction, and the team is exploring the possibilities for expandable software and smart antennae.

Right now, one big hurdle is the complexity of the algorithms driving the software and how that would be incorporated while still maintaining a user-friendly interface, Leising said. The CERDEC team is also looking to set up interference testing as it works with counterparts in the Navy and Air Force to make the dream radio a reality.

He added that the team is focusing on specific bands of interest right now, rather than wide-spectrum application.

High-level officials are in discussions about potential surveillance capabilities, and a cyber security information group is looking at the technology as well, Leising said. Future possibilities could include public safety applications, he added.

But with a potential initial capability presentation to CERDEC management in March and a September demonstration with the Navy on the horizon, Leising said the team is working to get the testbed off the ground.

“Right now we’re fleshing out the possibilities for cognitive radio,” Leising said.