The Valiant Shield exercise showed the value of not only collecting vital information from across the military domains, but delivering that information in a timely way to the people and platforms in a position to respond. That requires a level and pace of networking never before seen in defense.
“You can sense something, but if you can’t send that data to the platform that’s going to act, you can’t execute the mission,” said Elaine Bitonti, vice president of JADC2 experimentation and demonstration at Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies business.
Making those connections requires open systems that use multiple types of waveforms and networks to communicate, even in highly contested environments. And in turn, making those networks suitable for many types of military users requires innovative ways to manage and secure data amid the rigors of battle.
Raytheon Technologies already has a strong presence in secure communications across the military services. Collins Aerospace provides jam-resistant advanced tactical data links that are critical to connecting sensor data to operators on the edge of the battlespace.
Raytheon Missiles & Defense, another Raytheon Technologies business, is working with research and development organizations across the military to use cutting-edge approaches such as software-defined apertures, intelligent information distribution and multi-level security – a way to ensure operators can access the right data on the right networks. Those methods would help link platforms and synchronize their actions across extremely long distances in contested environments.
Apart from protecting data against unauthorized access, a multi-domain operations network would also have to handle the complications of international forces operating collaboratively. If a navy knows, for example, that a swarm of low-flying UAVs is heading into a friendly force’s airspace, it has an obligation to tell them right away – but it might need to keep other details secret, such as the source of the information.
In multi-domain operations, that would be a job for what’s known as the intelligent gateway – an oracle of sorts with multiple levels of security that would take in information from many forces across many domains, but redistribute it only to the relevant users, and only in an appropriate amount of detail.
“Users don’t always need to know what platform collected it or why that platform was in the area. They just need to know there is a valid threat,” Bitonti said.
She oversees the testing of technologies that illustrate how the intelligent gateway would work. In a 2021 demonstration at Wright Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City, for example, Collins Aerospace showed that a KC-135 aircraft – a plane traditionally used to refuel bombers and tactical fighters – can double as a communications node to bridge the joint force.
Using Collins technology including a cross-domain solution and an advanced tactical datalink mesh network, the KC-135 transmitted data such as images and positioning information, from multiple users, with different levels of classification. The technology also displayed that information on the aircraft's Real Time Information in the Cockpit system.
“Having something like the KC-135 that can extend the range and reach of the network is critical,” Bitonti said. “The KC-135 can be a bridge that enables wider dissemination of critical data, allowing commanders to make better decisions.”