Sea-Air-Space 2023: Enabling 5G Covert Operations for Naval Maritime Operations

Traditionally, maritime operations have experienced a lack of broadband connectivity. We have come a long way from semaphore systems to communicate. Commercial and military satellites have filled in the US Navy’s (USN) long range ship-to-shore C2 but inter-formation communications have continued to be primarily narrow-band. Maritime operations require speed, stealth, and highly reliable and available connectivity, particularly in complex naval scenarios. How are these requirements going to be met in an era of near-peer electronic surveillance ‘kill-chain’ lethality?

USN 5G connectivity

Many leaders in the USN have acknowledged that 5th generation wireless communications are enablers of future naval operations. Project Overmatch, the Navy’s JADC2 all-domain interconnectivity effort, includes how 5G technology can be used in maritime operations to connect ships, autonomous systems and sensors in the areas where the USN and Marine Corps operate. But in many cases, these must be stealthy. Pier-side and base logistical operations often don’t need LPI/LPD communications but afloat we know from many examples that sophisticated adversaries’ ESM systems can be staggeringly lethal. Stealth is a must to ensure battle group survivability.

“Think of a ship, think of a carrier group — we need to work in the run quiet, run deep kind of thing, can’t use SATCOM,” said Michael Galbraith, Chief Digital Innovation Officer in a recent C4ISRNET article. “I still need to communicate from that carrier to the destroyer, and 5G and other millimeter wave technologies allow that to happen.”

Connecting humans and unmanned systems

Another core element of maritime operations are the humans manning the ships and the emerging unmanned systems.

With reliable broadband connectivity, you remove the need for supply and replenishment ships to be manned in the same way they have been for decades. In fact, reliable connectivity is a driving factor in supporting Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) for maritime operations.

Towards stealthy broadband maritime operations networks – mmWave

But high availability and high bandwidth are not enough. Stealthy communications networks at sea are seen as essential to mission success. How do we make them a reality? How do we ensure low probability of detection (LPD) and low probability of interception (LPI) while connecting ships, submarines, air assets and unmanned vessels? IEEE 5G millimetre Wave-based (mmWave) networks are proving to be a robust, stealthy solution.

IEEE 5G mmWave-based networks comprise multiple points, or nodes, that communicate with each other wirelessly, and do not depend on a central hub. This architecture allows for low-latency routing of data – a very important feature for fire-control systems.

Furthermore, mmWave-based 5G networks can integrate with existing ethernet connected technologies, linking various systems to create a comprehensive Zero Trust cybersecurity framework that safeguards the secure transmission of vast quantities of data.

By leveraging covert mmWave-based networks, military forces can deploy reliable and stealthy communication networks with LPI/LPD capabilities.

Maritime 5G trials by Blu Wireless have demonstrated this successfully in practice. The trials took place in Singapore and France in January 2022, reaching 1 Gbps at 1 km, and an average of 100 Mbps over distances of up to 4 km. These are industry record-breaking uplink speeds that will deliver step change in terms of capacity and reliability of communications networks at sea.

The introduction of 5G networks now mean that a Navy strike group can be reliably interconnected at sea – a crucial advancement for both ship-to-ship communications and MUM-T. SATCOM will still be needed to interconnect ship-to-shore or wider area communications, but local area radio emissions can be stealthy, low-latency and broadband, a step-function in capabilities.

The Blu Wireless team and I are looking forward to connecting with visitors and peers at the Sea-Air-Space conference to discuss the challenges and solutions related to connectivity in maritime operations.

Blu Wireless will be demonstrating its latest mmWave LPI/LPD broadband communications products for defence applications at Sea-Air-Space.  Please come and visit our stand or get in touch to arrange a meeting.