General advantages in this situation are a direct consequence of the use of low-probability of intercept L-band Iridium SATCOM, as antennas do not need high directionality (as for Ku or Ka band links), and satellite visibility is generally very good. This provides good communications in difficult terrain, such as jungles, littoral or built-up areas (generally).
Depending on the specific requirements, the soldier would be provided with a means to use the LPI short-message Iridium communications. This can either be as a NORTAC WAVE® unit or on a PDA with L-band transceiver. It is unlikely that a full terminal would be deployed at this level.
The chosen hardware provides the deployed soldier with a covert and effective means of communicating with colleagues in difficult terrain. Normally another radio would be used for routine co-ordination of the team, but the NORTAC Defence® solution’s messaging offers some advantages and a secondary means of communication within the team:
- Effective, focused communications within a deployed team using covert messaging, resistant to terrain factors. This can be used to complement or as an alternative to conventional radios where communications security needs to be preserved, but links need to be maintained to provide overall SA.
- LPI messaging ensures covert operations are secured, while maintaining essential links. The NORTAC Defence® solution exploits the characteristics of the Iridium network through very infrequent, short transmissions.
- Lightweight unit to minimise additional load; it can replace a personal radio on occasion. The NORTAC WAVE® is a compact unit providing good battery life.
- Ability to maintain SA if a PDA with mapping is used; can be achieved (with limits) by text messaging if required. NORTAC Defence® provides a range of applications and is agnostic to the platform, so choices of hardware can be made to suit the mission.
- Emergency button to request assistance in extreme cases, or if compromised. This can be programmed to alert other team members and to inform mission command of an emerging issue that requires attention. This can provide rapid support to the SF soldier.
- Ability to send situational reports with key updates as necessary. Text messaging can be used to transmit text messages somewhat similar to a WhatsApp application and provides a reliable backup for key information.
- Can readily be disabled if compromised to maintain security. The allocation of access rights can be kept very specific to the operation, and compromised nodes can easily be disabled by the local commander.
In general, the SF soldier is trained to operate independently, or in small teams. Accordingly, the SF soldier’s requirements are somewhat different, and the reliability of communications is very important. NORTAC Defence® solutions can play a key part in this, particularly in difficult terrain. The short-message solution is not suitable for extensive information exchange, such as images, or video, but can be of great value to ensure reliability and transmission of key orders or updates.
Insertion/ Withdrawal Asset
This is a key asset for SF in the scenario that is depicted. The asset can typically be a marine craft, a helicopter, or a covert land vehicle, depending on the operational circumstance. It is likely that this asset will have a deployed NORTAC TACTICAL™ implementation on appropriate hardware, such as a laptop.
- Accordingly, the local commander can track deployed SF soldiers and make appropriate decisions in response to text messages or emergency button activation.
- In general, this asset would withdraw to a safe location whilst the operation was underway, but good SA would permit intelligent decisions about pre-positioning in case of an urgent need for extraction of SF teams.
- Covert messaging would also permit local operational command to issue instructions to this key asset to reduce risk and to permit integration of the overall tactical picture, which would not be available to the local resource commander.
The NORTAC Defence® solution is of less use with a surveillance asset, as bandwidth limitations would not permit the relay of pictures or video information. However, the link is of value in relaying and updating the location of assets, and can also be used to reliably transmit special commands, such as self-destruct or local information wiping.
- The reliability of the link, and its covert nature also permit status information and short reports like remaining battery life, detected alerts, etc. to be transmitted as a backup to the normal means of communication. For specific types of sensors e.g. seismic or magnetic sensors, the low bandwidth requirements would make the SBD message a viable primary means of communications, especially as it can be configured for low power consumption.
The objective of an SF operation may extend beyond surveillance or reconnaissance to delivering a local effect, such as disrupting a camp or lines of physical communications. This often requires the SF soldier to call upon a more capable strike force.
- In general, normal radio would be used to issues orders and co-ordinate the strike force, but the NORTAC Defence® Iridium link would provide a covert and reliable communication channel, in the case where pre-planned operations are being confirmed, and timings need to be updated.
- The ready availability of SA to the local commander in difficult communications environments is almost unique to the NORTAC Defence® solution and can be a potent force multiplier, especially in rapidly changing tactical situations (a frequent event in SF operations). It permits the optimum deployment of available resources, and quick response to changes, especially if the emergency button facility in the NORTAC WAVE® is used.
Higher Level Command (Remote)
A key objective for such oversight is up-to-date and accurate SA. The NORTAC Defence® solution provides this, and the TITAN BY NORTAC® software is well suited for the display and use of such information, either as a standalone application, or integrated into a more comprehensive BMS.
- If a full BMS exists, TITAN BY NORTAC® can add the links into the Iridium SBD message, and secure SATCOM to provide resilience and additional capabilities for SF deployments. Additionally, NORTAC Defence® can provide tracking of HF radios as additional functionality which can be integrated into more extensive BMS solutions. Such radios are often used for longer-ranging SF deployments, especially for remote observation.
- Such SA permits appropriate forces held in reserve to be deployed if the situation develops adversely, or decisions on extraction to be taken with the latest information. It is unlikely that the NORTAC Defence® solution will be the primary communications for operations outside routine covert surveillance, but the robust nature of the Iridium link is a key enabler to ensure that this SA picture is kept up to date.