DARPA’s Mobile Hotspots: Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram in Combat?

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U.S. troops are one step closer to high-speed wireless networks mounted on UAVs.

The black-ops-budgeted Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is making progress in delivering their Mobile Hotspots program to the U.S. military, with the goal of providing 1 Gb/s communications backbone to deployed units:

Missions in remote, forward operating locations often suffer from a lack of connectivity to tactical operation centers and access to valuable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data. The assets needed for long-range, high-bandwidth communications capabilities are often unavailable to lower echelons due to theaterwide mission priorities. DARPA’s Mobile Hotspots program aims to help overcome this challenge by developing a reliable, on-demand capability for establishing long-range, high-capacity reachback that is organic to tactical units. The program is building and demonstrating a scalable, mobile millimeter-wave communications backhaul network mounted on small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and providing a 1 Gb/s capacity. DARPA performers recently completed the first of three phases in which they developed and tested key technologies to be integrated into a complete system and flight tested in subsequent phases.

darpa logo1 600x338 DARPAs Mobile Hotspots: Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram in Combat?

So far, the Phase 1 accomplishments to deliver Mobile Hotspots include:

• Smaller, steerable millimeter-wave antennas: During field testing, the program successfully demonstrated steerable, compact millimeter-wave antennas that rapidly acquire, track, and establish a communications link between moving platforms.

• Low-noise amplifiers: Performers also demonstrated an advanced low-noise amplifier (LNA), which boosts the desired communications signal while minimizing unwanted noise.

• More efficient and capable power amplifiers: Efficient millimeter-wave amplification is required to achieve the long ranges (> 50 km) desired in the Mobile Hotspots program.

• New approaches for robust airborne networking: Mobile ad-hoc networking approaches were developed to maintain the high-capacity backhaul network among mobile air and ground platforms.

• Low-Size, Weight, and Power (SWAP) pod design to carry it all: Performers created engineering designs for small, lightweight pods to be mounted on an RQ-7 Shadow UAV.

Phase 2 of the program began in March, with goals that include the integration of the selected Phase 1 technologies into Shadow-compatible aerial pods and ground vehicles. Phase 2 will conclude with a ground demonstration of at least four Shadow-compatible pods, two ground vehicles and a fixed ground node. A planned third phase will encompass field testing of the Mobile Hotspot systems on networks of multiple SRQ-7 Shadow UAVs and mobile ground vehicles.

We’re assuming a classified Phase 4 of the program will include testing with troopers in forward operating bases located somewhere off the grid simultaneously trolling Tinder, uploading a pop song parody video starring their buddies to YouTube and playing their fave MMORG.

Photo: A soldier prepares an RQ-7 Shadow UAV for takeoff.
Image: Wikipedia, DARPA

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