Wired.com After more than 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s research group has announced a new system that could help U.S. troops and multinational forces communicate — a problem that frequently plagued the countries’ cooperation in the field.
Darpa’s nearly-completed Mobile Ad-Hoc Interoperability Gateway (MAINGATE) is said to overcome the “technical incompatibility between communications systems [that] can hinder information sharing and timely command and control decisions.” The latest version of the system will soon make its way to Afghanistan, even as U.S. forces draw down.
“MAINGATE is designed to be a potent communications force multiplier for joint and combined forces,” said Keith Gremban, DARPA program manager, in a statement. “From a radio perspective, MAINGATE allows coalition forces to plug in their own radio systems and MAINGATE takes the necessary steps so everyone can communicate in real time.”
Darpa has been developing MAINGATE since 2008, awarding Raytheon an initial $155 million contract in 2009 to make the concept into a reality. Certain elements of the project have already been used into U.S. Army systems.
The system relies on two technologies to provide an interoperable network for connecting forces. A high capacity Wireless IP Network (WIPN) radio provides a “terrestrial ‘Everything over IP’ backbone” with enough capacity to simultaneously support many channels of voice, video and data. The second is MAINGATE’s Interoperability Gateway, which provides interconnectivity for otherwise incompatible communications equipment. According to Raytheon, MAINGATE provides 10 megabits per second to a network of as many as 128 nodes that could include drones, ships, bases and vehicles on the ground.
“We’re transitioning a proven capability that can be kept up to date with the latest IP technology standards,” said Gremban. “Just as a smartphone offers the capability to do more than make phone calls, MAINGATE is much more than a radio—it’s a backbone architecture enabling video, data and voice sharing among a diversity of networks and devices.”
According to Darpa, MAINGATE is designed to accommodate upgrades with future technologies, so that the system stays as current as the latest commercial IP-based communication tools to provide the most advanced capabilities to front-line troops.
Afghanistan will likely not be the only opportunity the Pentagon has to deploy MAINGATE, and Darpa also points out that it could support emergency first responders where multiple agencies and organizations often have incompatible communications systems.