Resilient Autonomous Networks for Joint Multi-Domain Operations

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German and Estonian military personnel participate in an aerial simulation during Spartan Warrior 22-2. The exercise included forces from Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom in addition to the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Edgar Grimaldo)

In our last article on The Modern Battlespace, we featured the first part of a two-part conversation with Joseph Graf, a Fellow and Communication Systems Architect at Collins Aerospace and one of the authors of the recent whitepaper, “Resilient Autonomous Networking.”

During this discussion, we asked Joseph to define multi-domain operations (MDO), differentiate MDO from Joint MDO, and explain why they’re both so essential for military success against today’s more sophisticated and capable adversaries. We also asked Joseph about the networks disparate services and nations use for communications and how they interoperate when collaboration and coordination are needed.

Ultimately, interoperability remains a major challenge between the services that comprise the U.S. military – mostly as a result of the stove-piped networks that each developed and implemented individually. This challenge is exasperated by the inclusion of allies and coalition partners – which comes with interoperability and security challenges all its own.

Unfortunately for the U.S. and its coalition partners, the advanced adversaries that we will most likely face in the future know where the seams are in our infrastructure and will actively work to attack them in an attempt to deny essential capabilities and services. This makes resilient, interoperable communications essential for the future fight.

In the second part of our discussion with Joseph, we discuss Resilient Autonomous Networks – a framework that can seamlessly connect the networks and better prepare our military and its allies for the threats of the future.

The Modern Battlespace (TMB): What is Resilient Autonomous Networking (RAN)?

Joseph Graf: For the past several years, many customers – U.S. and NATO – have been asking similar questions through RFIs pertaining to solving heterogeneous networking problems as it pertains to MDO and Joint MDO. We brought together experts from across Collins Aerospace’s Mission Systems business to analyze the various RFIs, take a fresh look at the customer’s needs, and look at technologies – not products – required to solve the various problems in heterogeneous networking.

The scope of communications systems has evolved toward “network-of-networks” or heterogeneous networking, with the challenge to converge multiple homogenous networking systems and from there, to seamlessly integrate those systems and distribute their information to the consumers and end users.

“The RAN framework provides resiliency, self-healing, link diversity, capacity management, and network topology control, which brings a robust, seamless networking capability to each tactical edge.” – Joseph Graf

Collins Aerospace proposed a framework and architecture for a suite of micro-services that combine to enable heterogeneous networking called Resilient Autonomous Networking (RAN).

This framework provides the capability to discuss the network-of-network needs consistently with the various military customers to show in a clear and unambiguous way what is required to integrate individual networking services into a seamless network, across a variety of domains and operational theaters both military and commercial, for the next generation of resilience, reliability, and robustness.

TMB: How can RAN make military networks more interoperable and resilient?

Joseph Graf: The goal of the RAN framework is to define a capability set to link together disparate networks across multiple domains. In other words, heterogeneous networking in which disparate networks are coordinated in such a way as to act as a single, unified network to create a unified battle space network that encompasses the communication capabilities of all the different services – connecting all sensors, platforms and users, in support of cross-domain maneuvers which requires coordination across domains.

Click the image above to download a complimentary copy of the recent whitepaper, “Resilient Autonomous Networking.”

The RAN approach defines an autonomous, heterogeneous networking convergence layer capability that coordinates and manages a wide range of Internet Protocol (IP) and non-IP traffic and radio equipment in order to facilitate MDO- or JADC2-like missions.

The RAN framework approach simplifies the deployment of the latest networking solutions to maximize network effectiveness and seamlessly interface with joint and combined forces by intelligently forwarding packets to the appropriate links based on policy, leveraging 5G concepts such as traffic splitting, steering, and switching, managing content-level network prioritization and aging, managing information across security enclaves, and to provide a common abstraction layer to create an open architecture to ensure we can bring the best technologies into this convergence layer problem.

A slide from a recent Collins MDO brief delivered at NATO EDGE. The box in the figure labeled “Networking Services” illustrates the network-of-networks layer required to enable MDO/JMDO.

The RAN framework provides resiliency, self-healing, link diversity, capacity management, and network topology control, which brings a robust, seamless networking capability to each tactical edge. This is why Collins has partitioned the problem space into multiple sub-layers of capabilities needed for heterogeneous networking, as defined in our white paper. This allows for open discussion using a common language with the military and industry to define refinements of the needs of each capability and service.

Regarding resiliency, we addressed the question, “How does a tactical node at the edge take advantage of the multiple network connections available in order to maximize resilience and ensure mission success?” We took a look at the use of a micro-service-based architecture, which will allow for innovative solutions to be inserted into the RAN framework as technology progresses.

“The goal of the RAN framework is to define a capability set to link together disparate networks across multiple domains. In other words, heterogeneous networking in which disparate networks are coordinated in such a way as to act as a single, unified network.” – Joseph Graf

For example, simple policy employment would be used to adjust network flows and usage based on priority and mission phase. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) improves, these capabilities can be seamlessly inserted into the micro-service-based architecture to replace simple rules-based decisions with AI and ML algorithms that can better anticipate changing tactical communications environments and ensure a more robust communications capability.

TMB: What is necessary to make RAN a reality in the DoD? Does this require a massive overhaul of existing networks and technologies?

Joseph Graf: The goal of RAN is not to reinvent all the existing infrastructure but to define a consistent way to bring all these existing networks together into a seamless and robust heterogeneous experience that reduces human-in-the-loop interaction through a phased approach to automation and eventual incorporation of AI/ML to ensure information is provided to the right user at the speed of relevance.

How RAN can improve network availability by baking in resilience to maximize the network availability across a broad range of disruptions.

RAN, as a framework, is a concept that we are actively using to communicate the technologies required to do MDO/JMDO. Having said that, we do have capabilities and products that fill some of the technology gaps within the framework. Having this framework available now informs our roadmaps for these products, and we can more deliberately migrate our product evolutions to satisfy the overall requirements for MDO/JMDO. It also helps us identify third-party capabilities that can be folded into the framework, such as 5G traffic steering switching and splitting, as an example of a commercial application that can be used to provide resilience.

I also acknowledge that the overall solution for RAN will likely not be a Collins-only product. In the day and age of open architectures, it is important to create a framework where we can also satisfy the Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) tenants within the U.S. DoD acquisition strategy. To that end, we view RAN as the initial starting point to create a comprehensive solution for Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and MDO.

To learn more about the interoperability challenges facing the military and the RAN framework, click HERE to download a complimentary copy of the whitepaper, “Resilient Autonomous Networking.”