Millimetres Make A Difference

US Army 2030 Graphic
The US Army is moving forward with its Army 2030 vision which will see an overarching modernisation of its manoeuvre force which could include the acquisition of millimetric wave communications.

The US Army may begin procuring millimetric wave communications systems for its land manoeuvre force from 2025.

Officials from Blu Wireless told Armada that the US Army may potentially acquire Millimetric Wave (MMW) communications systems for its land manoeuvre force from circa 2025. The officials were speaking during this year’s DSEI exhibition held in London between 12th and 15th September.

MMW communications use frequencies well above traditional High Frequency (HF: three megahertz/MHz to 30MHz) and Very/Ultra High Frequency (V/UHF: 30MHz to three gigahertz/GHz) radio. HF and V/UHF are used for the lion’s share of the tactical communications performed by land forces. Millimetric wave frequencies are found much further up the radio segment of the electromagnetic spectrum. Typically, MMW includes frequencies of 30GHz to 100GHz.

Such frequencies offer several advantages not typically found in frequencies lower down in the radio spectrum. For example, MMW signals have a very narrow beamwidth of around eight degrees, the officials said. These narrow beamwidths are challenging to detect with conventional Electronic Support Measures (ESMs). Most ESMs cannot detect and identify frequencies above 40GHz with MMW signals falling well beyond this.

A second advantage concerns how MMW signals perform in the atmosphere. These signals have exceptionally narrow wavelengths of between 9.9mm (30GHz) and 2.99mm (100GHz). The short ranges of under ten kilometres (5.4 miles) which are achievable with MMW signals make them hard to detect with ESMs. Thus narrow beams and the short ranges offered by MMW communications means an ESM must be relatively close to the transmitting antenna to detect, identify and locate it. Such proximity is understandably undesirable at the tactical edge.

Another advantage offered by MMW concerns data carriage. Blu Wireless officials told Armada that millimetric wave communications can handle traffic at rates of circa three gigabits-per-second. Data rates like these can eclipse those offered by conventional V/UHF communications.

Into service?

The officials said that the US Army’s Futures Command could perform the MMW procurement. In its own words Futures Command “transforms the Army to ensure war-winning future readiness.” Communications modernisation is one area of interest for Futures Command. Army 2030 is an overarching, ongoing modernisation initiative being pursued by the force for which Futures Command has key responsibilities. Army 2030 is intended to ensure that the force retains strategic, operational and tactical overmatch against near-peer adversaries. Part of this effort includes the force being secure from “enemy cyber and electronic attacks in order to reliably communicate and share data with ourselves, sister services and coalition partners.” This vision dovetails with the US Department of Defence’s wider focus on Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). MDO works to achieve the inter- and intra-service connectivity of every military asset across all levels of warfighting to achieve a better quality and pace of decision-making vis-à-vis one’s adversary.

Assuming the MMW acquisition by the US Army goes ahead, the advent of millimetric wave communications in the land manoeuvre force will be an important step in meeting both Army 2030 and wider MDO goals.

by Dr. Thomas Withington