Threats and opportunities: NATO demand for game-changing connectivity

This article is brought to you by Bittium

Before joining the alliance, Finland’s partnership with NATO was based on a policy of “military non-alignment”. However, the country’s entry into NATO is already creating new opportunities for cooperation as the partners seek to learn from each other.

Of particular interest to NATO is Finland’s ability to provide secure and sustainable tactical communications in some of the most complex operational environments and in the face of well-equipped equal adversaries. Similar connectivity constraints face Ukraine as it continues its campaign against Russia – hence NATO’s interest in Finland’s capabilities.

During the first two decades of the millennium, NATO forces were focused on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, where enemy combatants lacked significant C4ISR and electronic warfare capabilities. Coalition operations were also on a smaller scale with no requirement for large-scale communications networks.

But in an age of strategic competition—where equal adversaries retain such capabilities—NATO has moved toward deploying much more resilient networks, especially at the tactical level.

As Finland’s national champion for tactical communications, Bittium supports the Finnish Defense Forces (FDF) and other NATO partners with such requirements.

According to the company Senior Vice President, Defense and Security, Mr. Tommy KangasFinland already operates a “tactical communications infrastructure that fully meets the connectivity requirements of the new era.”

above: NATO has turned to deploying much more resilient networks at the tactical edge (Bethium)

New approaches enabled by wireless information technologies

In June, Finland’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) published its latest “Material Policy Strategy for the Defense Administration”, which highlighted how the country must be able to operate “critical defense systems in all security situations” enabled by “technological know-how -how and material readiness”. On the same subject : Navy asks Thales to provide RF and microwave power amplifiers for AN/USC-61(C) shipboard communications.

The document outlines “new opportunities for cooperation” between Finland and NATO, particularly in supply and research and development.

“Within its resources, Finland will participate in the development of NATO’s joint capabilities [and] will also appoint the necessary experts in defense technology in the NATO structures”.

Prior to joining, the FDF supported NATO task forces and exercises as a non-legal partner. Examples include NATO’s efforts to establish a Federal Mission Network (FMN) and the Coalition Warfighter Interoperability Exercise (CWIX).

NATO will now have even greater potential to learn from the FDF’s tactical communications capabilities.

Areas of interest outlined by the Ministry of Defense include digitalisation, artificial intelligence, machine autonomy and sensor technologies, all of which must be supported by optimal levels of connectivity.

“Wireless information technology will enable new approaches and structures that place new demands on material policy, and NATO membership will also deepen Finland’s material cooperation within NATO,” the document concludes.

Fully aligned with the FDF, Bittium continues to deliver game-changing tactical communications solutions across the armed forces, making it ideally positioned to support the requirements of NATO partners.

The assumption of Finland joining NATO won’t lead to major changes in the way Bittium currently does business, Kangas said, but the company will gain an even greater amount of information about requirements that may affect product development in the future .

“Finland has a strong conscription model and reserve-based armed forces, but it is still a very modern organization. So Finland is now a strong NATO country, which since the end of the Cold War has been prepared for a large-scale war against an invading power,” he said.

“From our perspective, Finland is specially prepared for this kind of full-scale warfare,” Kangas added, before illustrating how Bittium’s solutions in service to the FDF can support a wide variety of mission sets, ranging from homeland defense to special operations and expeditionary war.

“Bittium’s systems are designed for the type of war we are witnessing in Ukraine, which reflects what is required of NATO and in particular of its European members,” Kangasaid before warning: “The countries that have not yet invested in that kind of ability, now preparing to do it.’

above: Battlefield digitization requires optimal levels of connectivity (Bethium)

Meeting the requirements of large-scale warfare

Bittium’s tactical communications solutions are scalable to support small to large operations, allowing commanders to reconfigure formations and mission sets at pace and in the most complex operational environments. This may interest you : Thales designs Synaps-H Mission Module to support mobile ad hoc networks. Including support for deployments involving multiple brigades, each of which can be equipped with sensors and effectors that rely on optimal levels of connectivity.

Bittium’s Broadband Tactical Wireless IP Network (TAC WIN) system and waveform, as well as handheld and vehicle-mounted Tough SDR radios using the same waveform, are ideally suited to support front-line brigade-to-troop communications , according to Kangas.

Bittium continues to support FDF with the provision of Tough SDR radios following a letter of intent signed in 2017. Valued at approximately €130 million over a 10-year period, the agreement is designed to enhance FDF’s C2 and software-defined technologies in the long term.

“The unique value of the TAC WIN system as a mobile support network is its ability to scale,” Kangas explained. “It features the same Optimized Link State Routing (OLSR) protocol as the other waveforms, but is enhanced to host significantly more nodes than competing mesh networks, which typically accommodate between 10 and 200 nodes.”

Another advantage of the TAC WIN waveform is its ability to remotely reconfigure network nodes and autonomously enable their network entry.

above: Bittium provides scalable networks to support multi-brigade deployments (Bethium)

“SDRs must be configured to allow them access to a mobile ad hoc network. In a large-scale war, this reconfiguration should be automatic so that nodes can enter and exit the network automatically. This is an example of a bitium that meets the requirements set by modern warfare,” Kangas said.

Other solutions include the Tough VoIP system. Also serving FDF and many other customers, it can be integrated into networks to provide resilient voice communications.

Elsewhere, Bittium continues to develop its narrowband waveform with incremental releases. Two years ago, the FDF was authorized to purchase an updated version of the waveform to be integrated onboard the Tough SDR into services.

Narrowband Waveform enables simultaneous transmission of voice and data messages in command networks, also over long distances and wide frequency ranges, if necessary.

“During a large-scale conflict, the ability to also use narrowband waves is very important. Troops need narrowband capabilities to function effectively in jamming conditions. This includes support for voice and short data messages.”

Narrowband Waveform supports communications with the wideband TAC WIN Waveform as well as the European Secure Software defined Radio (ESSOR) High Data Rate Waveform (HDRWF).

Bittium plays a central role in the development of ESSOR waveforms – including the HDRWF, designed to promote interoperability between coalition forces at the tactical edge. Other members of the a4ESSOR consortium responsible for the development and provision of ESSOR waveforms are Indra, Leonardo, Radmor, Rohde & Schwarz and Thales.

The launch of NATO’s ratification of the ESSOR HDRWF was announced during the NATO LOS CaT meeting in Munich, Germany, in April. Confirmation of ratification is expected by the end of 2023, making ESSOR a NATO-recognized waveform under the designation “STANAG 5651”.

above: In a large-scale war, the configuration should be automatic so that network nodes can automatically enter and exit the network (Bethium)

Extension to NATO customers

Today, Bittium provides tactical communications solutions to the FDF and NATO partner, the Estonian Defense Forces, in addition to many other customers. See the article : US Army to receive more soldier-borne video terminals. But as Kangas suggested, Finland’s NATO membership promises to foster even greater adoption of its tactical communications solutions across the Alliance.

“Finland joining NATO absolutely makes the company an even more significant supplier because it is now officially a NATO-affiliated company.”

More information on Bittium solutions is available here and at DSEI, booth H7-121.

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