Military turns to fiber optics for aircraft

Moving away from standard copper and multimode fiber cables, the military cites fiber-optic networks as dramatically reducing weight loads, improving on-board communications, resisting harsh environments and enabling swifter upgrades.

Fiber-optic networks will soon become ubiquitous in U.S. military aircraft because of their advantages over copper and multimode fiber cables.

The military is developing prototype photonics technology for standard use because of its ability to dramatically reduce weight loads, improve on-board communications, resist harsh environments and enable swifter upgrades, writes Michael Cooney of Network World.

Photon-based technology can deliver large amounts of data and images at higher speeds.

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The fiber networks project, called Network Enabled by WDM Highly Integrated Photonics, will replace all current aircraft wiring with a single-mode fiber-optic network, Network World reports.

Wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) is a technology that multiplexes a number of optical carrier signals onto a single optical fiber by using different wavelengths of laser light.

In 2010, electronics company APIC received $9 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for WDM development. Testing is expected to begin this year.

DARPA said it will develop the prototype transmitters and receivers. Each fiber will carry multiple digital and analog signals to support advanced electronic warfare, radar and communications systems, and control mission stores, flight components and navigation, Network World reports.

The cost-saving potential of the new technology is also evident.

"Converting a fixed point-to-point cable infrastructure of tactical aircraft to a reconfigurable fiber-optic network that remains for the life of the air frame has the potential to save the Defense Department billions of dollars over the life cycle of an aircraft fleet," said Adel Saleh, a DARPA program manager, in a statement obtained by Network World.