No satellites? No problem. Army officials say they can expand the range of their Joint Tactical Radio Systems by deputizing unmanned aerial vehicles as relay stations, according to an official story this week about the ongoing network test at White Sands, N.M. Blimps and the Army's Shadow UAV both can carry JTRS equipment that increases the distance over which soldiers can talk to each other, keeping everyone on the battlefield connected without the need for a satellite link.
Per the Army's story:
The Aerostat blimps being used in the [Network Integration Evaluation] are carrying a four-channel, software-programmable JTRS Ground Mobile Radio as well as two-channel JTRS Handheld Manpack Small radios. The Shadow UAS are engineered to carry single-channel JTRS Rifleman Radios.Commanders hope that expanding the breadth of these networks will let everyone in the battle space -- on foot, in vehicles, in the air or back at the FOB -- stay on the same page.
The idea is to expand a terrestrial, JTRS-based communications network by adding aerial nodes designed to extend the ability to relay information across further distances through line-of-sight connections. The software-programmable JTRS radios, which can make use of encryption to safeguard information, are built to send IP packets of data, voice, video and images via multiple waveforms between static command centers, vehicles on-the-move and even dismounted individual soldiers on patrol.
"The aerial layer allows RF [radio frequencies] to travel further and more freely. It gets you line-of-sight connections to additional nodes on the network," said Jerry Tyree, deputy for material at Brigade Modernization Command. "We're getting ranges greater than 60 kilometers with the aerial layer."
Part of the rationale for JTRS technology is to afford battlefield communications in an austere environment where satellite technology might not always be available.