The Future of Waveform Modernization and the Trends Defining Defense Communications

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defense communications

Through 2021, trends that were established in 2020 remained and evolved to further drive innovation in the defense industry. These changes, in large part due to the ongoing digital transformation spurred by the pandemic, have placed renewed emphasis on the role of communications between teams. Throughout 2021, military leaders have come together to talk through how the battlespace is evolving and how to maintain overmatch, when faced with new competitors. As threats to communications systems grow, the military must adapt its military communication efforts to enable redundant, secure, and updated communications platforms and devices.

The Modern Battlespace is speaking with industry professionals about how the battlespace has shifted in the past year, how the state of communications has been altered, and what the industry can do to take advantage of those changes.

Jimi Henderson has seen the many ways that defense communications needs have evolved from both sides of the industry. Enlisted in 1999 as a Satellite, Wideband, and Telemetry Systems Technician with the U.S. Air Force, his experience revolved around operating and maintaining many advanced digital communications systems. Following his military service, Henderson leveraged his experience and his expertise to continue serving in a civilian capacity. Currently, he is the Vice President of Sales at Silvus Technologies where he interacts with designers and end-users while remaining on top of the latest industry trends.

Below are some of Henderson’s thoughts on the state of defense communications:

The Modern Battlespace (TMB) Editors: What are some of the greatest challenges that faced defense leaders this year with regards to communications across the battlefield? 

Jimi Henderson: As the U.S. and its allies shift focus away from the middle-east and retool for Great Power Competition, the need to operate in congested and contested radio frequency (RF) spectrum has emerged as a key concern. Our superiority on the future battlefield is contingent upon our ability for U.S. and ally forces to communicate wirelessly across all domains.

For years, we have enjoyed a decisive advantage in the RF domain, but advanced electronic warfare (EW) capabilities now being deployed by our near-peer adversaries have precipitated the need to develop new radio technologies that can persist in the presence of jamming and interference.

TMB Editors: How have waveforms evolved to meet some of these challenges?

Henderson: Software Defined Radio (SDR) platforms are a key enabler in facilitating rapid waveform development. Unlike radios built on commercial chipsets, SDRs allow the developer to manipulate the lowest layers (i.e., Physical Layer and Medium Access Control) of the waveform.

Working in close partnership with U.S. DoD sponsors, vendors can quickly incorporate feedback from field trials to modify and enhance the waveform to make it less detectable, more difficult to intercept, and more resilient to jamming and interference.

In the past several years, we have incorporated a number of waveform enhancements for operation in congested and contested environments. Since these enhancements reside in our firmware, many of them can even be applied to previously-fielded equipment by way of a firmware upgrade, which helps future-proof the government’s investment.

TMB Editors: Fill in the blank. 2021 was the year of ___ for defense. 

Henderson: JADC2. The U.S. Army’s Project Convergence and U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) both seek to further develop this capability, and we saw a lot of progress within these efforts. There is a lot of work going on now and planned for the future with joint all-domain command and control.

TMB Editors: How will waveform modernization progress in 2022 and beyond? 

Henderson: The adoption of DevOps process by the R&D community has enabled non-traditional vendors to work closely with government stakeholders to modify COTS/GOTS equipment to meet the emerging needs of the warfighter in a drastically reduced timescale compared to previous methods of engagement. Allowed to continue, I believe this collaboration between government and industry will provide US commanders with a decisive information advantage in a future conflict.

TMB Editors: How will lessons learned in 2021 be applied towards military readiness in 2022?

Henderson: In some cases, industry innovation is outpacing written requirements. DoD-sanctioned events such as Project Convergence, NetModX, and ABMS have opened people’s eyes to the realm of the possible. With resilient waveforms showing tremendous potential, it is now up to the requirements community to ensure these capabilities get written into future requirements, so we can ensure our forces are well-equipped for the battle of tomorrow.