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Activity title

Airborne Communications Node to Support Beyond Line of Sight Communications

Activity Reference

IST-ET-102 (COM)


Information Systems Technology

Security Classification




Activity type


Start date


End date



Aircraft, beyond line of sight BLOS, Communications, Networks, SATCOM, Tactical Data Link, UAV


This ET is to examine the options and issues associated with the provision of an airborne hosted communications node or nodes to provide BLOS range extension for ground, maritime and air forces. This concept would provide an alternative to SATCOM links within operational theatres providing additional bandwidth, resilience and/or reduce reliance on SATCOM. The task should explore potential airborne platforms: either dedicated to communications or hosted on a non-dedicated platform as an adjunct to the main platform tasking; the coverage these options would provide, the impact on the host platform and any shared tasking; associated platform vulnerabilities; communication payload options: whether it acts as a part of the SATCOM network or as an extension of ground, maritime or air based communication networks or only as a part of a Tactical Data Link network; And the options for the complexity of the payload: whether it provides simple radio relay functions, multiple radio systems access, networking functionality or C2 functionality. The initial concept of operations and how it may be managed would also be examined.


• Identify candidate airborne node hosting platforms and their flight profiles, examining communications geographical and temporal/endurance coverage, use of unmanned platforms, the support demands for each platform and proposed mission profiles and the vulnerability of each platform/mission profile. • Identify payload options for an airborne communications node and their relevant benefits, risks, size, weight and power demands, including antenna siting and any impact on the user terminals and their platforms. • Assess the projected cost and benefits of the most promising combinations of platform, mission profiles and payload. This should cover geographical and temporal coverage, communications improvements, number of platforms required for a range of deployed scenarios, management demands. An assessment of the risks to the capability should also be addressed.


Identify: • Candidate air platforms that offer the potential for hosting a communications node • Projected Costs; • Flexibility of tasking; • Flight profile (including geographical coverage); • Endurance and number of platforms for 24/7 coverage over each supported area; • Options for a dedicated platform; • Support demands; • Candidate Communications payload: • Extension to ground networks and/or extension of satellite network; • Complexity of payload (number of channels, number of radio technologies, relay, rebanding/gateway, switching/routeing and higher network functions); • SWAP and antenna demands for both the node and the users it supports. • Assessment of the vulnerabilities of such a capability and any means to reduce these.

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