Naval Research Lab evaluates tactical line-of-sight optical communications system

Line-of-sight communications
Line-of-sight communications

Exelis and its partner Innovative Technology Solutions Inc. (doing business as NovaSol) have successfully completed an extensive series of evaluations of the jointly developed Tactical Line-of-Sight Optical Network (TALON) free-space optical communications system.

Conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the exercises demonstrated the ruggedized system’s capability to wirelessly transmit 100 megabits per second of high-resolution imagery and video over a distance of more than 50 kilometers (31 miles). The system also acquired and maintained a data link between two U.S. Marine Corps Tactical Elevated Antenna Mast Systems.

“Free-space optical communications systems provide fighting forces with a high-capacity data link that is not reliant on hardline connections, such as fiber cables,” said Joe Rambala, vice president and general manager of the Exelis integrated electronic warfare systems business. “As the battlefield becomes more data-driven, ensuring warfighters are equipped with the information they need, whenever and wherever they need it, is critical to mission success.”

Free-space optical communications systems use laser technology to transmit narrow beams of energy capable of carrying anywhere from 100 kilobits to tens of gigabits of data per second. Along with operating approximately 1,000 times faster than conventional radio frequency (RF) communications systems, the narrow laser beams are invisible and provide an extremely low probability of interception. Additionally, by using laser energy to carry data, the system avoids congested RF bands, instead using higher-frequency wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The month-long, three-phase evaluation was conducted at NRL’s Chesapeake Bay Detachment, in Maryland; Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake; and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, in California. During the course of the testing, the ruggedized system demonstrated its broadband capability to transmit and receive streaming audio and video simultaneously from stationary and mobile positions in high-wind environments.

“NovaSol has been at the forefront of tactical laser communications for more than a decade, and these successful test exercises demonstrate the value of this experience,” said Dr. Rick Holasek, NovaSol president and CEO. “We look forward to working with Exelis and other partners to transition TALON successfully from research and development to a mission-ready product.”

The TALON system, developed under a Future Naval Capability program funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), is part of the shift to an invisible battlefield, where software, networks and the electromagnetic spectrum are critical to success. With this laser communications technology and other systems, Exelis is focusing on four strategic growth platforms — critical networks; intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and analytics; electronic warfare; and aerostructures — to meet customers’ needs and position the company competitively.