Battlespace Communications

Evolution and problems of Battlespace Communications.

The development and applications of military digital battlespace communications systems can be clearly shown to have been adapted from commercial enterprises that fashioned a network-centric style of operation, to optimise the command and control of them, advance their growth and profitability. Such enterprises have sponsored the development of seamless, open architecture, high data rate digital communications that use a plethora of techniques to achieve the objectives of the scheme. These systems are always on and use a range of data security designs.
The military, particularly the US Armed Forces, in developing its network-centric warfare methodology – that is largely the structural and functional equivalent of a commercial enterprise – has almost slavishly adapted similar commercial and technical solutions, most of which are not directly relevant to military strategic and tactical operational environments. In adopting these processes the military has been hoisted on its own petard and its latest command and control techniques have not been tested against a technologically advanced enemy. Yet in the history of warfare going back about 70 years there are many examples that Network-Centric Warfare techniques with their persistent communications requirements are in fact the ultimate military solution.
The US Army, in terms of capability and diversification, is the largest force in the Western world. It is backed by a huge pool of commercial and Government expertise in R&D and similarly, production. These facts have allowed the US DoD to maintain its position as the technology leader in military affairs for a number of years, despite in many cases a “fits and starts” process. In the evolution of Battlespace Communications this position appears unlikely to be eclipsed in the foreseeable future, despite the presently fragile economic state of that nation.
Other countries that are adopting a US-based NCW solution, because of dated commitments or choices resulting in interoperability, are being obliged to adopt essentially identical approaches. This is despite the jump in the operational overhead involved in their adoption and possible irrelevance to the adopting countries’ military organisation and methods of operation. This “force fit” is creating significant problems for the adopting countries.
The declared mantra of land force communications superiority dictates the need for reliable, high speed, secure, flexible, wide bandwidth, redundant system attributes with wide real-time distribution of the data carried by the bearers. Increasingly, the sharing of data from top to bottom of a large command and control structure – necessary for the adoption and application of NCW philosophies – also requires the adoption of an “always on” and seamless “communications on the move” capabilities, the latter being a newly emerging technology. However, although it is of critical importance in today’s conduct of war, a battlefield communications system that is “always on” allows actionable intelligence to be collected and used by passively monitoring military communications, to the advantage of a potential adversary, whether or not a confrontation exists between the two forces. A good example is military exercises.
Looking back, briefly, at the status of military communications some 70 years ago, prior to and during WW11, two examples of “tours de force” developments are interesting because of their impact on the conduct of warfare.
On the subject of secure communications and in an all-analogue environment Germany had a superior encryption capability using mechanical cryptography. The German Enigma machine was such a device and its encryption technique was not broken until a working machine was captured from a wrecked submarine – unknown to the Germans. Determining how Enigma worked broke open the Germany’s military communications’ security system and the Germans were unaware of it through very careful control of the use made of decoded traffic.
Location of radio transmissions, using Radio Direction Finding (RDF) of prevailing HF radio transmissions, was another rewarding discovery made in 1904 based on the use of trainable antennas connected to a receiver that provided a new direction finding capability. This discovery was made just sixteen years after Heinrich Rudolf Hertz succeeded in transmitting the first radio wave. Subsequently, Bellini and Tosi improved on the application by building the first RDF apparatus. The technique was further defined by the UK during WW1 and WW2 and remains an invaluable military countermeasures tool today.
During WW11 High Frequency Direction Finding (huff duff) was widely used by the Royal Navy to provide the location, by triangulation with another own force ship, of enemy warships and surfaced submarines. As the tactical operations of German submarine packs and the German Fleet were managed in real time by the German Naval Command from the “Homeland” and believing their system to be secure, the German Navy did not demand any control of the duration of radio transmissions – to the great tactical advantage of the Allies. Similarly, the Royal Navy tracked the battleship Bismarck’s movements well beyond line of sight by its radio transmissions and eventually sank it. This success in May 1941 bottled up the German Fleet for the rest of the war.
Notably, the Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Electronic Attack (EA) components of Electronic Warfare were not developed during WW11 and this capability did not begin to emerge until the Vietnam War. This was a situation where US and allied forces were confronted with a wily, intelligent enemy that adapted captured military communications equipment for his own use – especially listening in to traffic for intelligence gathering purposes.
During WWI, WWII and the early post-war WWII period, the concept of warfare was entrenched in a set-piece battle mentality where land clashes were fought on arable, populated land (e.g. the Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad ) and not one that was known based on guerrilla warfare – where small-force mobility, using radio silence, was a key tactic. The Vietnamese war re- introduced the use of guerrilla forces operating in difficult jungle, tropical, warfare environments where allied communications of any type were unreliable, hence its very wide use, and the location of the enemy force was difficult if not impossible to localise, except by physical contact. In such an environment there were no victors, only stalemates.
The realisation that humans are the most precious and limited warfare resource, engagement with a largely unknown force accelerated the introduction of remote, highly coordinated, battlefield management practices in an attempt to better control the vagaries of this type of warfare. Unlike the then US Secretary of the DoD, Donald Rumsfeld, who espoused that in the Iraq war “you come as you are” newer weapons such as the armed helicopter, carrying a range of battlefield sensors, fire and forget weapons and self-protection became the weapon of choice when fire support was required. Troop mobility was enhanced using large numbers of small, lightly armoured, wheeled vehicles such as the Humvee and LAV. Only limited use was made of Main Battle Tankss and fighter-bombers as there were virtually no land battle engagements or hostile airborne activity, but surveillance UAVS were introduced. The enemy’s widespread introduction of IEDs presented a significant problem that has yet to be fully resolved. From these situations and despite the superiority of the Allied Force, Net-Centric Warfare was introduced as the new paradigm. With it came the need for seamless, persistent communication networks from soldier-to-soldier in the field and to a remotely located Force Commander.
The conduct of the war in Afghanistan has been largely modelled on the methodology developed for the Iraq war, but the real enemy remains obscure. In the face of this environment, centralised management of operations and deployment of UAVs, armed with missiles, and ground force elements are controlled from the USA.
So all of these wars have impacted discussions on how future wars might be fought.
From the above simple scenario description it is evident that systems using advanced management tools and resources, such as unmanned reconnaissance and weapon systems are key to the successful operation of a land battleforce. The prequisite to success is however only assured by the implementation of an equally capable communications system and of course deep pockets. Ignoring cost, ownership of intellectual property and technology, the factors that have most contributed to the evolution of battlespace communications are the advent of the Internet, satellite communications and interoperability of allied armed forces.
In a few years the ADF has developed and is implementing its ”philosophies” for Net Centric Warfare that are aimed at establishing holistic management of its resources. In the context of land battlespace management NCW means that all units in a battlefield environment are necessarily interconnected with each other and with the Chief of Army using complex land, airborne and satellite radio transmission techniques. These systems necessarily operate in an “always on” mode of operation because of the real-time imperative of disseminating tactical data to generate situational awareness and a Common Operational Picture.
In the process of this evolution, Defence has tried to maintain step with technology at considerable expense and questionable wisdom, but it presently remains lumbered with the “always on” requirement that doomed the German Navy. This Achilles Heel of networked warfare is widely accepted, since continuous radio transmissions are presently the imperative to land force operations. Acceptance of this liability has resulted in a relaxed, desensitized approach toward radio transmission security with the net result, as in the Vietnam war, that known and potential adversaries are able to use readily available commercial technology. This allows them to passively conduct Radio Direction Finding (RDF) and radio frequency traffic analysis (not data content) in order to more accurately assess how such an NCW structured force operates and in a hostile situation the time and place to implement decisive action. And it can do this without the knowledge of the Own force. As one report of the Vietnam war stated “they (the Viet Cong) always expected us”.
This leaves security of data to be provided by cryptography – and that is a different story.

Interestingly, Defence has similarly been occupied with the collection and analysis of radio frequency transmissions from a hostile force by implementing the BUNYIP program. This is a modest tri-service project (about $150m) with Defence being the prime contractor using selected Australian Industry companies to provide specified RDF capabilities and analysis of acquired RF signals. BUNYIP is intended to replace earlier developments by the Australian Army. It is understood that BUNYIP does not include language analysis since this latter capability is a responsibility of the Defence Signals Directorate.
BUNYIP is interesting because it uses COTS equipment such as panoramic receivers, that are able to acquire and process frequency hopping and LPI RF transmissions using various broad-band receive antennas.
In operation, BUNYIP assumes that the incidence of a series of apparently random RF transmissions, if carefully collected and analysed, (e.g. location, traffic density characteristics, time of day, movement) may be indicative of a planned offensive.
Source jamming by BUNYIP is not involved as this would be a prime giveaway of a receiver’s position.

There appears to be several complementary, possible, solutions to this problem that will simply not go away by itself.
• Change the concept of “always on” by introducing a rigidly applied
“need to know” doctrine that determines who really needs to know the force tactics and when to apply them, on a campaign basis. It is arguable that the person who really has the greatest need to know is the immediate field commander and his staff, the tactics having been decided collectively with the higher command structure before the event, without resorting to the use of an RF communications network to convey them.
• Always have a continuous stream of airborne ISR data available from suitable UAVs.
• Control the directed radiated energy of essential RF transmissions to satisfy only the immediately required operational range.
• In a limited engagement use transmission spectra that are not within the radio frequency spectrum (eye-safe laser, IR bands).

1.Persistent “always on” radio communications are the leak in the “ship”.
2. Global proliferation of a wide range of technologies will affect the character of future conflicts. A forecast of future conflicts ought necessarily to include the effects of adversary actions taken to obtain tactical advantage by acquiring and using Own force situational awareness data obtained through the use of persistent communications. It must be recognised that potential adversaries will not allow denial of this capability to go unchallenged.


Previous articleThe problem with Defence (Part II)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here