DARPA 'soldier's radio' bridging gaps

Small Unit Operations: Situational Awareness System

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—While Defense Department and industry officials are developing the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) over the next few years, battlefield personnel are using the "soldier's radio," developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to communicate and enhance situational awareness.

JTRS uses software-centric radios that can be programmed to patch users into various radio frequencies. Initial production is expected in 2005, according the prime contractor, Boeing Co.

But while DOD users are waiting for JTRS to move from the drawing board to the battlefield, soldiers are using DARPA's Small Unit Operations: Situational Awareness System (SUOSAS), said A. Michael Andrews II, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for research and technology. He made his remarks Feb. 26 here at the Association of the U.S. Army's winter symposium.

The DARPA networking project has been designed to establish secure, reliable wireless communication for soldiers on the battlefield while keeping overhead low for real-time communication. The system uses mobile peer-to-peer nodes as intermediaries across long distances to coordinate voice and data communications.

SUOSAS is intended to improve communications among soldiers in restrictive environments, such as urban areas or mountainous regions. Each soldier wears a self-powered computer/communications device that serves as a peer-to-peer node.

Combined with mobile relay/router/beacons and tactical sensors, the result is a self-configuring, distributed information network. And because less power is needed for node-to-node communications, the system is less susceptible to detection and jamming than existing communications systems, according to DARPA.

DARPA Director Anthony Tether said SUOSAS helps meet DOD's goal of establishing robust, self-forming networks on the battlefield that enable commanders and soldiers to know where everyone is.

The DARPA solution is far less likely to be jammed than the heavily used Global Positioning System, which enables a person to determine his or her precise location on the Earth via devices that receive signals from a constellation of 24 satellites, said Philip Brandler, director of the Natick, Mass., Soldier Center at the Army's Soldier and Biological Chemical Command.

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