Robust Communications Relay with Distributed Airborne Reliable Wide-Area Interoperable Network (DARWIN) for Manned-Unmanned Teaming in a Spectrum Denied Environment
Navy SBIR 2018.1 - Topic N181-007
NAVAIR - Ms. Donna Attick -
Opens: January 8, 2018 - Closes: February 7, 2018 (8:00 PM ET)


TITLE: Robust Communications Relay with Distributed Airborne Reliable Wide-Area Interoperable Network (DARWIN) for Manned-Unmanned Teaming in a Spectrum Denied Environment


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Battlespace

ACQUISITION PROGRAM: PMA 262 Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems

OBJECTIVE: Design and develop a networked Line of Sight (LOS) communications capability to share high-data rate Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) data and tactical information between ships and DoD aircraft in local area of operations for distributed operations; to provide communication relay targeting updates for network-enabled weapons; and to move high data rate ISR data back and forth to ground entry points (GEPs) in support of ISR and long-range strike missions.

DESCRIPTION: Local Area high-data rate network links are currently limited to 2 platform nodes (e.g., 1 aircraft talks to 1 ship or ground entry point), which prevent multi-asset ISR data sharing in a constantly maneuvering environment.  Satellite communications (SATCOM) is not well suited to support the warfighters’ requirements in this scenario based on its architecture and latency.  To enable robust manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) and multi-ship communication at high data rates in a spectrum-challenged environment, a new architecture is required.

The communications relay system includes a resilient Distributed Airborne Reliable Wide-Area Interoperable Network (DARWIN) and a high-capacity back haul link using simultaneous co-bore sighted Ku- and W-band antennas, modems, and Common Data Link (CDL) waveforms.  The DARWIN system will integrate with an existing multi-beam CDL system (provided as Government-Furnished Equipment (GFE)) that can connect up to 12 assets simultaneously (aircraft, ship, and ground vehicles) in a Spectrum denial environment.  The DARWIN architecture also needs to be interoperable with the Navy’s shipboard Automated Distributed Network System (ADNS).  To support this architecture, the DARWIN network device will need to support up to 4 multi-independent level security (MILS) enclaves and also include inputs for MIL-STD 1553, LINK 16, and IP-based protocol.  A highly directional back haul link will be required to support up to 100Mbps (Ku-band) and 500Mbps (W-band), simultaneously (while maneuvering) assuming 35,00ft Mean Sea Level (MSL) for 2 aircraft in link.  Other lower-altitude combinations may assume lower data transfer rates when taking into account light and heavy rain regions and cloud attenuation.  This architecture will allow for aerial Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) aircraft nodes, communications relay between ship-to-ship, ship-to-aircraft, aircraft-to-aircraft, and aircraft-to-GEP.  With multiple aircraft participating, the network is envisioned to possess a level of autonomy and control that allows for network impairments, such as, limited bandwidth, long delays, data latency, data loss, and connection disruptions.  Additional features should be considered, such as, smart data throttling based on message priority, real time spectrum maneuvering, lossless data compression techniques, data bundling, caching, queuing, sufficient buffering during maneuvering, translation and embedded acknowledgements to improve performance. DARWIN should also support control of Low Probability of Detection/Intercept waveforms.  It is envisioned that MQ-4, MQ-25, MQ-8, E-2D, BACN, and USAF bombers and tankers, and SOCOM Army UAVs will all utilize this architecture to enable airborne LOS communication architecture for resilient communications.

PHASE I: Design and develop a system and demonstrate its feasibility through modeling and simulation of architectures.  Develop brass board prototype (if mature enough) to support DARWIN objectives.

PHASE II: Develop prototype design and demonstrate capability in a laboratory environment.  Conduct flight testing on surrogate aircraft provided by the vendor.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Perform final testing of and integrate the refined system with all components of the communications relay and network architecture.  Following successful testing, it is envisioned that the systems will transition to Navy and potentially USAF aircraft.  The DARWIN architecture will provide benefit for commercial W-band wireless communications for efforts involving low-cost, long-duration air balloon communication relay nodes.


1. “Automated Digital Network System (ADNS).”

2. Thompson, Loren et al. “Netting the Navy Key Initiatives.” Lexington Institute, June 2017.

3. Adhikari, P. “Understanding Millimeter Wave Wireless Communication.” Loea Corporation, 2008.

4. Schlosser, T. “Potentials for Navy Use of Microwave and Millimeter Line-of-Sight Communications.” Technical Report 1719, September 1996.

KEYWORDS: Antenna; Network; Wireless; Communication; Airborne; Relay


These Navy Topics are part of the overall DoD 2018.1 SBIR BAA. The DoD issued its 2018.1 BAA SBIR pre-release on November 29, 2017, which opens to receive proposals on January 8, 2018, and closes February 7, 2018 at 8:00 PM ET.

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