Coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have a major communications issue: military, security contractor and non-government organizations frequently need to communicate with each other during combat and other operations. But communications technology compatibility issues often prohibit them from doing so effectively.
DARPA contracted Ratheon in 2009 to build the "Mobile to Ad-Hoc Interoperable Network GATEway" (MAINGATE), a mobile network that both military and civilian organizations can use to communicate using any radio or wireless device. The agency announced last month that the system has now been tested for video, voice and data by both high- and low-bandwidth users.
A key component of MAINGATE is Network Centric Radio System (NCRS). According to Defense Industry Daily, NCRS provides: "1) a backbone radio architecture that enables IP versatile networks and 2) a radio gateway that enable legacy analog and digital communications systems to be linked together." NCRS provides a self-healing ad-hoc mobile network that enables seamless communication between nearly any radio.
Defense Industry Daily reports that MAINGATE also features disruption-tolerant networking to cope with disruptions caused by line-of-sight issues, spectrum access, congested radio frequencies and noisy environments.
No civilian applications of the technology have been discussed, but one can imagine that similar technology could be useful for service or healthcare workers in remote areas, especially when teams from separate organizations need to communicate in the field.
We previously covered the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's work on applying social network theory to mobile ad-hoc networks. It isn't clear if there's any collaboration between the Research Laboratory and Raytheon on these projects.
The U.S. military is taking mobile communications very seriously. In addition to improving field communications, the military is investing in conventional mobile technology. The U.S. Army recently announced that it will provide smart phones such as iPhones or Android devices to all personnel, and is considering making other mobile devices such as tablets and e-readers available as well. And in early 2010, the Army sponsored the Apps for the Army contest. The winning entry was an app that provided pictures and videos of the new exercises included in the Army's new Physical Readiness Training program.
The military's use of mobile technology is an interesting case of the consumeriztion of IT. Technology once started in defense research, then trickled down to business and then eventually to consumers. In the late 1960s DARPA (then known as ARPA) funded the creation of ARPANET, the first wide-area packet switching network and the predecessor to the Internet.
The consumerization process has mostly reversed itself, with technology starting in the consumer sector and then working its way into business and the military. However, new technology like MAINGATE could have civilian uses, so it's worth paying attention to innovations in defense technology. The consumerization process could always reverse itself once again.
What uses for MAINGATE can you see for enterprise IT? What other defense technologies should IT be paying attention to?