Support: March 13, 2004

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The U.S. Marine Corps is building its own battlefield Internet from off the shelf equipment. When the marines went to war in Iraq in 2003 they quickly discovered that their radio equipment was not up to the needs of fast moving mechanized warfare. That's understandable, as Iraq was the first time the marines ever had to advance so quickly, and so far inland, during combat. Taking this as the wave of the future, and lacking the money for a lot of expensive new communications gear, the marines came up with CONDOR (Command and Control on the Move Network, Digital Over the Horizon Relay). Basically, CONDOR equips each marine battalion with satellite telephone and encrypted wi-fi gear, as well as networking hardware for all sorts of marine radios. The satellite link means that no battalion is ever out of range of radio or Internet communication. Most marine radios are "line of sight" (FM) and are of limited range. When units spread out too far, they lose radio contact unless they have satellite phones. The marines got satellite phones and satellite based communications gear from the army during the Iraq campaign. This proved a lifesaver. CONDOR goes one step further by establishing wi-fi nodes throughout the battalion area, and also collects and transmits data from the EPLRS (locator transmitters) that every vehicle carries. The problem with EPLRS was that it used a line of sight signal (unlike the army Blue Force Tracker, which used satellite communications). CONDOR transmits EPLRS data to all marine units in the area, thus allowing a division commander to see where all his vehicles and troops are, even if they are hundreds of kilometers apart. CONDOR also allows any radio in the battalion to use the satellite link to call anywhere in the worldwide marine communications network.

CONDOR will also provide Internet connections for everyone in the battalion. The Internet has become a necessary tool for combat operations, especially the Department of Defense secure Internet (which is encrypted and not connected to the public Internet). Logistics, intelligence and personnel work is done over the military Internet, and CONDOR will insure that marines are never out of touch. CONDOR can also use any satellite system that is available.

Since the 1990s, this distance and communications problem has been foreseen, and a new family of radios (JTRS) were developed to deal with it. But JTRS won't be available until the end of the decade. So CONDOR will fill in until JTRS arrives. CONDOR is another example of how new technology is being developed so quickly that the usual Department of Defense way of developing new gear is often overtaken by faster evolving civilian equipment. No one expected satellite phones and wi-fi to come to market as quickly as they did. But here they are, and they will fill in until the official solution, JTRS, catches up. 

 


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