A Rockwell Collins-led team has won through to the second phase of a technology demonstration that is emerging as a leading candidate to connect precision-guided weapons and unmanned air vehicles to the battlefield network.
Collins has been selected over Harris to proceed into the 20-month, $19 million second phase of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Quint Networking Technology (QNT) programme, which is intended to extend the reach of datalinks the “last tactical mile” to connect weapons, UAVs and even dismounted soldiers.
“We do not have a way to directly link with weapons, small UAVs and handhelds,” says DARPA QNT programme manager Lt Col Steve Waller.
The programme aims to develop miniaturised datalink terminals small and cheap enough to be disposable. These dual-channel software-defined radios are to be capable of operating on multiple frequency bands, using multiple communication waveforms, providing different data speeds and connecting to the US Department of Defense’s IP-based Global Information Grid, says Waller.
Three sizes are planned. A 165cm3 (10in3) low-throughput terminal weighing 0.9kg (2lb) and costing $2,000 will provide a 10kb/s bidirectional link to exchange position reports, update target coordinates and allow weapon hand-off from a tactical aircraft to a ground controller. A 330cm3 high-throughput terminal weighing 2.2kg and costing $5,000 will provide a 2Mb/s video capability to transmit the weapon’s last image before impact for bomb damage assessment. A 490cm3 handheld terminal will allow the soldier to downlink video from a UAV or retarget an incoming weapon.
The Collins team, which includes Boeing, Launch Pad Labs and Thales, is to produce breadboard prototypes for functional testing in 2007. These will be followed by smaller brassboard prototypes that will be flight tested in 2008 in a bid to meet US Air Force and Navy deadlines to network their weapons.
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC