Will the Network Support the Mission?

Battlefield Communication Network Requirements

The performance of wireless communications, particularly in operational battlefield conditions, can literally mean life or death. Knowing that the network assets that are deployed with the mission will satisfy the communication needs of the warfighters executing the mission is an important predictor of mission success.  

How can mission commanders achieve confidence in the ability of these assets to satisfy the mission needs under expected operating conditions during battlefield communications, particularly as those needs change or the network assets are degraded or destroyed?  Exercises using live assets are costly, resource-intensive and provide limited opportunities to investigate alternatives scenarios; they are also of limited value in early stages of system design. Pure constructive models often lack the realism of live exercises, and the capability to incorporate mission-critical applications directly into the models.

The current generations of live, virtual and constructive (LVC) network models provide a cost-effective solution to accurately evaluate network & application performance, and hence mission success, for complex systems of systems in operational environments. Thus, a commander can not only build confidence that the battlefield communication network will successfully support the mission but also gain actionable insights into how mission dynamics (e.g., loss of a relay or a cyber threat) may impact the mission. LVC network models can also substantially reduce life-cycle costs of networks and networked applications through all the stages from design, development, test, and planning and ensure a more robust deployment capability to ensure mission success.

Modern military networks and networked applications impose a variety of critical requirements on the underlying communication assets.  Some key issues that must typically be addressed include:

ScalabilityWhat is the operational impact of increases in the volume or types of traffic, number of connected devices, or increased tempo (mobility, more frequent position updates) on end-end performance of my networked system?  In mobile wireless networks, that are key components of tactical networks, it is well known that protocol and network performance can change abruptly in response to small changes in a number of factors including the number and size of clusters or subnets; also, radio configurations for a given network deployment may degrade application performance as the network size changes.

Diverse operational environments: Will the network deliver required performance in urban terrain when deployed across the ground, air, and space-based platforms?  How will the connectivity and latency be impacted as the mission moves indoors?  How does the mobility profile (e.g. pitch, roll and yaw of an airborne platform) affect the network connectivity or wireless link quality in terms of its ability to support voice or full-motion video traffic? Mobile ad hoc networks must operate in many types of RF-challenged environments and the impact of such environments on the end-end performance of applications is often unpredictable.

InteroperabilityWill applications run seamlessly across ground, air and satellite assets that potentially use different communication links?  The interoperability issue is even more significant when we consider the ‘weakest link’ effect, where an application(e.g. Joint Range Extension (JRE)for situational awareness) spans heterogeneous networks and the end-to-end performance may be severely degraded because of suboptimal behavior on an intermediate link or network.

Quality of ServiceIn emerging all-IP networks, all types of traffic share a common network and priority markings are used to distinguish desired levels of service, in terms of end-end delay, reliability, and message throughout. Changes in the volume of traffic of a given priority may have a significant impact on the delivery characteristics of other traffic already on the network.

Resilience to Cyber threatsWireless networks can be harder to secure against cyber threats than a wired network.  Given their typically lower bandwidth and higher control traffic they are often more susceptible to lower intensity cyber threats that may be harder to distinguish from disruptions caused by environmental factors.  Understanding the operational impact of cyber threats that range from virus and worm propagation and insider attacks (e.g. route poisoning) to denial of service and jamming attacks on mission completion, is a critical issue.

Network Deployment

Once these issues are addressed, the LVC model provides a cost-effective way to test the operational resilience of a given network deployment to a diverse set of cyber attacks. Most cyber attacked the network can be viewed as specific communication protocols of applications or modifications to existing protocols that cause the network operation to degrade. As such, a library of models can be developed to represent different cyber attacks and cyber defense mechanisms affecting the network deployment. This makes the LVC models capable of determining the impact of cyber threats on operational mission performance in a comprehensive and cost-effective manner, there for ensuring the network deployment is a success.