Battlefield tech under UK and US spotlight

$135.8m programme to look at wireless and sensor networks...
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor

$135.8m programme to look at wireless and sensor networks...

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the US Army are to work together on a $135.8m joint research programme to develop advanced secure wireless and sensor network technology, including RFID, to support soldiers in the battlefield in future coalition operations.

The MoD and the US Army Research Laboratory will work with an IBM-led consortium of 25 industry, government and academic partners, including the likes of Boeing and Cambridge University. The newly formed group is called the International Technology Alliance in Network and Information Sciences

As modern warfare becomes more of a virtual environment - fought and co-ordinated from behind computer screens far away from the real frontline action - future military operations will increasingly depend on the capability of forces to collect, analyse and share battlefield information quickly across disparate military units.

Dr Thomas H Killion, US Army chief scientist, told silicon.com it is about how to tie together communications and sensor networks to get the right information to soldiers on the battlefield.

He said: "How do you design and deploy tactical networks and mobile systems, tie in sensor and support systems and support the soldier? It is about distributing data so the other person has the right information."

RFID tags and other tracking devices linked to coalition systems are one way that the risk of 'friendly fire' - where a soldier on the same side is killed by accident - could be minimised.

Killion said: "We would be able to know where everyone in space and time is and can locate them on the network."

Killion added that he expects to see "significant" research results within the next three to five years, with commercial tech products coming out of that in the five years after that.

But he admitted there will be a host of research issues about how to enable mobile tactical networks in the battlefield environment. He said building a mobile network in the field with "a bunch" of mast towers isn't logistically feasible yet the challenge is still to create a network that can be used by coalition forces in a warzone that is secure and has sufficient bandwidth to ensure the right data gets across the network to the right person.

Professor Phil Sutton, director general for research and technology at the MoD, said the research alliance will push the boundaries and look at "radical" new ways of exploiting technology.

He told silicon.com: "We are not there to simply do what we do but better."

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