Army operates networked smartphone-equipped radios

MPU5 radios are engineered to form a self-healing, mobile ad hoc network able to operate in a wide range of challenging environments.

The Army is operating a small, multi-function, computer-enabled radio engineered to widen the scope of performable technical operations and increase mobile mission flexibility for drones, robots and individual soldiers.

The Persistent Systems MPU5 radio is a mobile ad-hoc radio that routes voice, video and data across a networked system in near real-time with extended range and extended bandwidth, developers said.

The radios are engineered with a maximum bandwidth of 100-plus megabits per second and typically operate at 30 to 60 megabits per second.

“We run Android on this radio, which allows you to load applications and run them as a remote computer,” said Louis Sutherland, vice president of DOD business development for Persistent Systems.

Designed for mobile ad hoc networking (MANET), the radios are built to allow mode-jumping to accommodate the different types of communications. Each radio both transmits data and functions like a node or router on the network, much like the Army's Rifleman Radio systems.

Persistent Systems' WaveRelay technology enables the radios to signal across a network in urban or mountainous areas where connectivity might otherwise be compromised by buildings or terrain. The MPU5 is built with multiple-antenna configurations known as Multiple-In/Multiple-Out to help compensate for multipath reflections off of structures and build a stronger signal, developers explained.

“The radios form a network dynamically," Sutherland said. "We take the network with us so there is nothing fixed and there is no reliance on any particular one node. The network is self-forming and self-healing…there is resilience and redundancy.”

Tech developers for the U.S. military consistently mention that resilience against various kinds of interference is of great significance in a fast-changing, near-peer-type threat environment where RF signals could be detected, interfered with or jammed.

It is not entirely clear what kind of vulnerabilities these radios may have, however they are built by design without one master node for the purpose of being less penetrable to these kinds of potential interference.

These kinds of technical strategies to enhance resilience of software-programmable radio networks are extremely impactful and of great relevance, according to a prominent military-tech analyst.

"Resilience is a magic word when it comes to this space. We won't be able to prevent the growing number of threats in this space, so the goal must be to focus on how to power through them so to speak, to keep networks up even in the midst of attacks," said Peter Singer, strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

The radio is designed to change frequencies as needed, which minimizes the need for separate individual radios to operate on a different band -- particularly in different potential international operational areas where different frequencies may be required.  And its small card-like form factor can be mounted to a small drone or robot.  For some applications that may require an even smaller size, weight and power configuration, there is an embeddable module that can be integrated directly into such devices.

The MPU5 has HDMI connectivity and can use a computer screen display to show video, data and other information.