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US Air Force scares up $75.5M for ad-hoc missile silo network

At a planned 25k square miles, it's said to be largest net of its kind yet

The US Air Force has awarded a contract to build a massive 25,000 square mile mobile ad-hoc network spanning the region of the Great Plains that houses the country's fleet of intercontinental ballistic missile silos.

The $75.5 million contract was granted to New York-based Persistent Systems, which manufactures hardware for building secure mobile ad-hoc networks, or MANETs, designed to self organize without the need for centralized hardware. 

The Air Force Global Strike Command plans to use Persistent's Wave Relay ecosystem to build what it calls an infrastructure-based regional operation network, or IRON, which in turn is part of its regional operating picture, or ROP, a plan for a larger operational system that presents a standardized, data-driven picture of the state of military operations across a large area. 

Once it's built, Persistent said in a press release, the Air Force IRON MANET will allow aviators with compatible devices "to seamlessly share voice, video, chat, sensor, and GPS data." Persistent said the network will consist of around 700 IRON systems deployed over the 25k square miles (65k sq km), and will connect 75 operation centers and over 1,000 roving Security Force vehicles. 

"US military bases can sprawl tens of thousands of square miles, and as it stands now, there's no dynamic, high-bandwidth way for headquarters staff to track, and reliably remain in contact with, the security personnel patrolling this vast area," said Persistent's VP of Business Development, Adrien Robenhymer.

That's something your correspondent can attest to with firsthand experience. While serving in the Army in the early 2000s, I was a Military Policeman and was responsible for patrolling lots of small, out-of-the-way places. Encountering an open hangar door in the dead of night, far from radio contact with the Provost Marshal's Office, was frightening not only because we did not know what we may find, but also because there wasn't a guarantee someone would know where we were if something were to happen. 

Such a MANET could go a long way to protecting units in the field, and making them feel a bit safer, even in relatively secure garrison environments that are still too large for classic military communications systems to cover with much reliability.

"The first step will be to roll out ROP across Malmstrom, Minot, and FE Warren Air Force Bases with eventually more to come," Robenhymer said.

Those three bases, according to the Department of Defense, are where the "current ICBM force … of Minuteman III missiles" is located. 

MANET systems, because they self-organize, are able to share data between nodes even if one is lost. This makes them ideal for military applications, and Persistent said the Air Force doesn't plan to confine their use to garrison operations. 

Along with building better comms networks for stationary operations, weapons, base defense and airborne systems can all be connected to IRON. Persistent said that IRON systems can also be used to speed deployment of small airstrips and enable them to operate with fewer personnel - a major part of warzone Air Force operations.

The company has already begun deployment of its MANET across the Air Force's missile fields and expects to continue working on the project over the next 36 months. ®

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