Naval communication in an electronic warfare age

Electronic warfare and its permutations have long been an interest of mine;  in fact, back in the 1980’s, they were part of my job.  My knowledge of the field is long out of date, of course.  Computers, microprocessors and distributed processing have altered it out of almost all recognition compared to the equipment I used, which seems almost steam-driven by comparison . . . but many of the basic tasks of electronic warfare remain the same.

One of the most important is to deny the enemy the ability to communicate.  If his sensors can’t warn of an incoming threat, or his ships, aircraft and other units can’t tell each other what they’re doing or where they’re going, all sorts of complications result.  That’s why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on an emergency communications system for the US Navy, designed to temporarily replace existing networks when they’re taken down by enemy action or otherwise unusable.  In a press release, DARPA says:

DARPA’s Tactical Undersea Network Architecture (TUNA) program … seeks to develop and demonstrate novel, optical-fiber-based technology options and designs to temporarily restore radio frequency (RF) tactical data networks in a contested environment via an undersea optical fiber backbone.

The concept involves deploying RF network node buoys—dropped from aircraft or ships, for example—that would be connected via thin underwater fiber-optic cables. The very-small-diameter fiber-optic cables being developed are designed to last 30 days in the rough ocean environment—long enough to provide essential connectivity until primary methods of communications are restored.

There’s more at the link.

Here’s a video showing what DARPA has in mind.

That’s some seriously impressive skull-sweat.  A fiber-optic cable can’t be jammed or interfered with, apart from cutting it;  and small surface buoys linked by trailing, underwater fiber-optic cables will be very hard to even detect, let alone disrupt.  If DARPA and the US Navy can figure out ways of deploying them that an enemy can’t stop, or use to track them down and destroy them, this will be a game-changer in tactical naval communications.  They might even be able to add an underwater communications component to them, so that submarines can use the network to talk to surface ships, aircraft, or even their home bases.

This is pretty nifty.  Congratulations to all concerned.



  1. I immediately came up with a Wild Weasel type of countermeasure.

    By definition, these nodes would be broadcasting RF so locating them and homing in on them with missiles would be fairly straightforward.

    Of course, there are ways to mitigate that, too. Redundancy, Force (Resource?) protection, air supremacy.

  2. Similar thought here, if they use burst transmission and other stealthy methods they would be a bit more survivable but also be capable of sending far less information.

    If I was going to counter them I'd go with a long endurance drone with multiple small air droppable explosive packages. The package could be tailored to defeat whatever design we deploy. Send the drone to the general area and let it seek the transmitters and kill them until out of fuel or explosives.

  3. So the “Navy” comms program is illustrated with an aircraft that Navy doesn’t fly, and one which never went into production. Is that what the Soviets called дезинформация, transliterated as dezinformatsiya?

  4. old stuff: meteor-burst communication
    TX and RX antenna are living trees (girth the bark)
    bounce short message off ionized meteor trails

    may not be exceptionally practical but I know it functioned late 70s/early 80s

  5. I guess this is the best place to leave this comment.
    I'm reading "Stoke The Flames Higher," and have just gotten to the point where the drone arrives in the Atha system. You have the commanders issuing all these tactical dispositions, and…
    …how is YOU know all this stuff?
    You were a grunt.
    So was I.
    And they didn't teach this stuff in basic grunt school or medic school or seminary.
    I can follow along with the words, but as far as CREATING them? Nah. Not a chance.
    And I'm not that much younger than you, so you can't pull that 'older and wiser heads' thing on me.

  6. @Habbakuk21: I've been studying it for years – decades, in fact, as far back as the 1970's. I did things back then that involved some of this stuff as far as contemporary warfare was concerned. To apply it to a SF milieu is just a reach of imagination, along with an understanding of basic physics.

  7. Okay, but you are amazing.
    In one of my posts (I think it was about your Cowboy book), I said it was you and a few others like OldNFO who kept me away from conventions. I fear that if I meet you I will lapse into full fanboy mode and probably start babbling.

  8. That green line in the middle is an Achilles heel. A (big)boat, a hook, and a hack saw. Seen much evidence of it happening to an intercontinental Fiber optic cable about 20 years ago.

  9. EMP airburst and your little network is toast. 😉
    Even the most hardened RF system can be neutralized with enough current.

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