Meteor Burst Communications: An Additional
Means Of Long-Haul Communications
AUTHOR Major John P. Jernovics Sr., USMC
SUBJECT AREA C4
TITLE: METEOR BURST COMMUNICATIONS: AN ADDITIONAL MEANS OF
THESIS: Recognizing the limitations and vulnerabilities of exist-
ing communication systems and the ever-increasing requirement for
additional communication paths with an over-the-horizon (OTH)
capability, the Marine Corps and other branches of the military
have shown an interest in the resurgence of meteor burst
communications (MBC) and its potential applications.
ISSUE: With technological advances and the corresponding improve-
ments in the range and lethality of weapon systems, the dimensions
of the modern battlefield have significantly increased. This
enlargement of the battlefield, in conjunction with the enemy's
improved capabilities to exploit vulnerabilities of existing
systems, is placing an additional burden on an already strained
C3I system. The ramifications of these facts have a significant
impact on the Marine Corps' amphibious doctrine. Technology will
ultimately dictate that future amphibious operations must be
conducted from an OTH posture to reduce the risk and insure a
certain degree of success. However, such a posture will place a
new and substantial demand on our current beyond-line-of-sight
(BLOS) long-haul communications capability. The employment of an
MBC system, with its unique ability to reflect and re-radiate
very high frequency (VHF) radio waves from the ionization trails
of meteors, could provide the MAGTF commander with an additional
BLOS communication means during an amphibious assault as well as
augment the communications network in a widly dispersed area of
operation once ashore.
CONCLUSION: Although an MBC system is not a panacea for all
future communication problems and requirements, it does offer a
communications medium that provides several advantages over
conventional means. The system's inherent interception,
detection, and anti-jamming characteristics, nuclear
survivability, simplicity, and low cost make it an attractive
additional path to augment existing circuits and enhance the MAGTF
commander's C3I system.
METEOR BURST COMMUNICATIONS:
AN ADDITIONAL MEANS OF LONG-HAUL COMMUNICATIONS
THESIS: Recognizing the limitations and vulnerabilities of exist-
communication systems and the ever-increasing requirement for
additional communication paths with an over-the-horizon (OTH) cap-
ability, the Marine Corps and other branches of the military have
shown an interest in the resurgence of meteor burst communications
(MBC) and its potential applications.
A. Importance of C3
B. Expansion of the battlefield
II. VULNERABILITIES/LIMITATIONS OF CURRENT COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS
A. Satellite systems
B. Single/multichannel radio systems
C. Wire/cable systems
III. HISTORY OF METEOR BURST COMMUNICATIONS (MBC)
A. History of MBC technology
B. Existing MBC systems
IV. MBC PHYSICS, PARAMETERS, AND GEOMETRY
A. Meteor phenomenology
B. Meteor trail physics
V. MBC SYSTEMS
A. System operation
B. Basic system configurations
C. MBC advantages and disadvantages
D. Technological advances
VI. POTENTIAL MILITARY APPLICATIONS OF MBC
A. Other services
B. Marine Corps
METEOR BURST COMMUNICATIONS: AN ADDITIONAL MEANS OF LONG-HAUL
History has shown that success in armed conflict can be
attributed to the establishment of effective command and control
of forces on the battlefield. The commander's ability to make
rapid decisions and maneuver his forces at critical moments are
dependent on available and attainable information. However, the
"fog and friction" of war are real battlefield dynamics that
create the uncertainty that will severely challenge the
commander's abilities in the command and control of his forces.
Uncertainty will always be a factor encountered in the command and
control process on the battlefield, but the magnitude of that
uncertainty can be directly influenced by the commander's ability
to obtain and disseminate information and provide guidance to his
subordinate commanders. His ability to communicate his desires to
his units while receiving simultaneous appraisals of situations on
the battlefield enhance his perceptions of the battle and
ultimately his decision-making process. Therefore, to establish
an effective command and control system, it is imperative that a
communications system be integrated that facilitates two way
information flow while ensuring that the proper information is
received by the proper individual. In essence, the effectiveness
of the command, control, and communications (C3) systems and the
ability of each system to respond to a rapidly changing situation
will determine the degree of success on the modern battlefield.
As warfighting has progressively become more sophisticated,
involving larger forces, encompassing greater areas, and
containing many new and more lethal weapon systems, the
communication systems supporting the command and control functions
have undergone a similar evolution. Communication methods have
evolved from the basic use of visual signals, such as fire and
smoke, to the capability of rapidly establishing world-wide "real
time" communications through accessing terrestrial and Earth
orbiting communication platforms directly from the battlefield.
However, the advances in technology are also proving to be a
double edged sword for our communication systems. As the cap-
abilities of these systems increase, so does the usage of the
system as a result of the demand for more information. Technolog-
ical advances have also aided our enemies in countering our
communication systems by exploiting their vulnerabilities and
inherent limitations. Finally, the significant improvements in
the range and lethality of modern weapon systems has expanded the
width and depth of the battlefield which further taxes our commun-
ication systems. This increase in the size of the battlefield has
the greatest impact on the Marine Corps during amphibious
operations. Because of the range and lethality of the enemy's
weapons to the amphibious ships, amphibious assaults in the future
must be conducted from an over-the-horizon (OTH) posture which
will stress an already constrained communication system.
The importance of an effective communication system in the
command and control of our forces has increased their requirement
for timely and reliable communication-electronics support. All
combat units now possess a capability to establish and maintain
communication links with higher headquarters as well as with
subordinate units through a wide variety of equipment and trans-
mission means. However, these communications systems are rapidly
becoming saturated because of increased demands for information
while they are simultaneously being constrained by limitations of
the frequency spectrum, increased distances, and are becoming
increasingly vulnerable to technological enhancements of the
enemy's Radio-Electronic Combat (REC) capability.1 In addition,
the principle systems such as satellite, single and multichannel
radio, and wire/cable each possess a host of vulnerabilities and
limitations which could degrade the overall communication system.
Satellite communication technology began in the late 1960's
and provided the military with a new means of beyond-line-of-sight
(BLOS) communications. These systems offered exceptionally high
throughput (information transfer capacity) with superior circuit
quality. Currently, the two systems that are available for use by
the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) are the Defense Satellite
Communication System (DSCS) and the Fleet Satellite Communication
System (FLTSAT). Satellite communication for a very long time
was considered the panacea for all communication related problems.
However, as this technology matured, the limitations and
vulnerabilities of satellites were realized. Although many of the
critical vulnerabilities of satellites are highly classified and
beyond the scope of this paper, there are several areas that can
be addressed. Space is not a sanctuary. Like any operation on
land, sea, or air, satellites are subject to a variety of hostile
anti-satellite measures which include co-orbital interceptors,
direct energy weapons, and electronic warfare. It is important to
note that a damaged satellite is not rapidly nor easily repaired.
In addition, the cost of establishing a terrestrial communication
station, the inherent cost of the satellite, and the cost of
launching the satellite into orbit makes this type of
communications system very cost intensive. Finally, the number of
channels available are limited by the small number of satellites
in orbit and the large number of subscribers attempting to gain
access to these existing channels.
Single and multichannel radio systems make up the prepon-
derance of the communication assets available to the MAGTF. Only
single channel high frequency (HF) radio systems provide a notable
BLOS capability. Single channel very high frequency (VHF) radios
and multichannel VHF and super high frequency (SHF) radio systems
are limited to line-of-sight (LOS) propagation. The range of
these various systems varies from 3 miles to over 80 miles. This
range can be further increased by the use of repeaters/relays to
achieve a BLOS capability. All of these systems are vulnerable
to the enemy's electronic warfare measures, but the multichannel
systems are at the greatest risk since they normally operate in
the "constant keyed" mode or, in otherwords, are continuously
transmitting. The HF systems are capable of world-wide communica-
tions, but the circuit quality is inferior to satellite communica-
tions and prone to considerable interference and disruption due to
ionospheric storms. All of these radio systems operate in
sections of the electromagnetic frequency spectrum which are
highly congested world-wide. In addition, none of these systems
matches the throughput capability or circuit quality of a
Tactical wire/cable communication systems enjoy relatively
high circuit quality and when these lines are properly conditioned
they can pass exceptionally high volumes of data. The major
limitation of such systems is the distance that they can cover.
As the distance increases, transmission signal strength decreases,
while noise on the circuit increases and eventually will reach a
level where the terminal equipment will find the circuit unusable.
In addition, installation of a wire/cable system is manpower in-
tensive and only suitable for relatively static positions.
Although these systems are not emitters like the previously dis-
cussed systems, they are still vulnerable to the intelligence
gathering capability of the enemy and to deliberate physical
destruction by the enemy or inadvertent damage by friendly forces.
As advances in technology alter modern warfare, the demands
for higher capacity and reliability of our communication systems
continue to increase. Recognizing the limitations and
vulnerabilities of existing communication systems and the ever-
increasing requirement for additional communication paths with an
OTH capability, the Marine Corps and other branches of the
military have shown interest in the resurgence of meteor burst
communication (MBC) and its potential applications.
MBC, as the name implies, involves the reflection/re-radia-
tion of radio signals from the ionization trails left by meteors
entering the Earth's atmosphere. These reflected/re-radiated
signals can be used effectively for long range communications and
telemetry. MBC is a relatively mature technology. The earliest
observation of interaction between meteors and radio
communications was reported in 1929 by Hantaro Nagaoka of Japan.
In 1931, Greenleaf Pickard reported that there was a definite cor-
relation between increases in signal levels and meteor showers. He
postulated that meteors increased ionization in the atmosphere
which acted as a mirror-like reflector of radio waves.2 It was
not until 1946, in research conducted by the Federal
Communications Commission, that a direct correlation between
enhancements in VHF radio signals could be linked to individual
meteors. Studies conducted in the early 1950's by the National
Bureau of Standards and the Stanford Research Institute had
limited success, but confirmed that long-range VHF radio wave
propagation could be attributed to meteor activity. A landmark to
meteor burst communication was the establishment of the Canadian
JANET system. Established in 1952 and operated throughout most of
the decade, this system consisted of a full duplex circuit with a
communication path in excess of 1000km which achieved a data rate
of 34 words a minute.3
Subsequent experimental tests were conducted with second
generation MBC systems in the 1960's and 1970's. Notable among
these efforts is the implementation of COMET (COmmunication by
MEteor Trails) system by NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers
Europe (SHAPE) in 1965. This first operational military MBC
system operated between stations in the Netherlands, France,
Italy, West Germany, the United Kingdom, and Norway. COMET
demonstrated the practicality of MBC under a variety of
conditions. This system could maintain, depending on meteor act-
ivity, from two to eight 60 word per minute (WPM) teletype
circuits. COMET achieved an average throughput of between 115 and
310 bits per second, depending on the time of year.4 It became
the most successful and studied MBC system installed until the
Interest in MBC waned because of the advent of satellite com-
munications in the late 1960's. However, in the late 1970's there
was a resurgence of interest in MBC as the vulnerability of com-
munication satellites became apparent and the availability of
satellites to meet our needs was insufficient. In 1978, the
Department of Agriculture started operation of the SNOTEL (Snow
Pack Telemetry System) system under the management of the Soil
Conservation Service. By far the largest MBC system in the United
States, this system consists of two master stations and more than
500 remote stations dispersed in inaccessible terrain throughout
10 western states. These unmanned remote stations are solar
powered and provide reports every 24 hours when polled, on snow
pack, precipitation, and temperature. The entire polling process
only requires 20 minutes to obtain data from all of the remote
stations. SNOTEL fully demonstrates the large network performance
capability of an MBC system.5
There are a number of MBC systems operating in Alaska. The
two largest operational networks are the Alaskan Meteor Burst
Communications System (AMBCS) and the USAF's Alaska Air Command
MBC system. AMBCS became operational in 1977 and is used by five
federal agencies. The Bureau of Land Management maintains contact
with their remote survey teams. The National Weather Service uses
the system to remain in contact with remote weather stations. The
Soil Conservation Service obtains data similar to that obtained by
SNOTEL. Stream and river gauging is recorded for the U.S.Geologi-
cal Survey while the Corps of Engineers obtains environmental data
from the system. The USAF system became operational in the mid
1980's and is used as a backup connection between the Regional
Operations Control Center (ROCC) located at Elmendorf AFB and 13
Long Range Radar (LRR) sites located in remote regions throughout
Alaska. The primary communications for these organizations is
provided by a satellite system but, because part of the satellite
footprint extends into the USSR, it is extremely vulnerable to
jamming. The MBC system will function as a backup system and send
radar tracks from the LRR to the ROCC.6 This system has
demonstrated the capacity to send adequate amounts of data to be
able to maintain a real time radar display. Both Alaskan MBC
systems have shown that MBC systems can operate in an auroral
For decades it has been common knowledge that the Earth is
under constant bombardment by meteors. Each day, approximately
a hundred billion meteors enter the Earth's upper atmosphere at
a height of 120km and at a velocities between 10 and 75 kilometers
per second. The typical meteor that enters the atmosphere is
about one millimeter in diameter or about the size of a grain of
sand. Considering the large number of meteors entering the
atmosphere, only a small number are actually usable for
communications. Meteors with a mass greater than 10-7 grams are
suitable to reflect radio waves.8 Although the number of these
usable meteors is considerably less than the total number of
meteors entering the Earth's atmosphere, they still number over
several billion daily.
The billions of meteors that enter the Earth's atmosphere on
a daily basis do not enter at a uniform rate. Generally, meteors
can be divided into two classes: shower meteors and sporadic
meteors. Shower meteors are groups of particles moving at the
same velocity in well-defined orbits around the sun. As the Earth
passes through this orbit, they produce a spectacular show for the
observer. However, shower meteors account for a small fraction of
the total incidence of meteors. The other class of meteors are
referred to as sporadic meteors. These consist of particles that
move in random orbits around the sun and account for the majority
of meteors used in long range radio wave propagation. Their
location in the atmosphere and the times of their occurrence are
random. However, the rate of incidence of sporadic meteors varies
during the time of day as well as vary during the season. The
optimum time of day for meteor communications is during dawn of
each day, which has the highest incidence of meteors entering the
atmosphere. The lowest incidence is during sunset. This diurnal
variation occurs as a result of the morning side of the Earth
sweeping up meteors as it moves forward in its orbit around the
sun. Conversely, on the evening side, the only meteors reaching
the Earth are those which overtake it. Seasonal variations occur
because the intersections of meteor orbits with the Earth's orbit
are not uniformly distributed, but are concentrated so as to
produce a maximum of intersections in August and a minimum in
Of the billions of meteors entering the atmosphere every day,
only a small number are suitable for communications. One may ask,
what is MBC and what are the actual physics involved? As already
mentioned, it is the reflection/re-radiation of radio waves from a
meteor, resulting in a telecommunications link. However, the
communications signal is not reflected/re-radiated by the meteor
itself but from the ionized trail it leaves as it travels through
the atmosphere. As the meteor enters the Earth's atmosphere, it
is traveling between 10 and 75 kilometers per second. At
approximately 120km above the surface of the Earth, it encounters
air molecules of sufficient density that friction builds up
between the meteor and these air molecules. The heat that is pro-
duced evaporates atoms from the meteor. These boiled off atoms
collide with the surrounding air and produce additional heat,
light, and ionization, which forms a meteor trail. This trail is
essentially a column of ionized air, which acts like a conductor,
and reflects and re-radiates radio wave energy.
The ionized trail caused by a meteor can be classified as
either overdense or underdense and is determined by the electron
line density of the trail.10 Underdense trails have a low density
and, when radio wave energy passes through these trails,
individual electrons are excited and re-radiate the signal back to
Earth. Overdense trails have an electron line density so great
that radio signals can not penetrate the trail and are actually
reflected back to Earth. The majority of meteors entering the
atmosphere produce underdense trails. The length of the ionized
trail is dependent on the mass of the meteor and the angle at
which the meteor enters the atmosphere. Trails can reach up to 50
km in length but normally average 15km in length. In addition,
the ionized trail's usefulness for an MBC link diminishes rapidly
due to the expansion of the trail through diffusion and the
effects of strong wind shear in this region of the atmosphere.
Meteor trail durations range from less than a second to several
The burning up of meteors creates ionized trails which
then permit radio waves in the lower VHF spectrum (30-100MHZ) to
be reflected or re-radiated from these trails for distances up to
2000km. To provide a communication channel between two stations,
a meteor trail must be spatially located in the common volume
of the antenna patterns of the two stations. Because of the
short duration of the trails, information must be transmitted in a
burst mode and messages must be kept terse. In addition, both
transmit and receive station antennas must be illuminating the
same region of the sky in order to establish a successful communi-
cations link. This fact, and realizing that meteors enter the
atmosphere in a random pattern, results in usable meteor trails
every 4 to 20 seconds.
An MBC link functions in the following manner. A probe, or
polling signal, with the unique address of the specific remote
where information is to be obtained, is sent repeatedly into the
atmosphere from a master station. The remote station waits and
listens for the probe with its specific address to be reflected by
a meteor trail. This reflected signal returns to Earth in an
elliptically shaped (10x35km) footprint. When the desired remote
station falls within this footprint and is addressed by the probe
signal, it sends back a message to the master station that the
communication channel is open. The master station acknowledges
the remote station and the "handshake" is complete.
Communications between the two stations via the meteor trail can
commence in a half or full duplex mode and continue until the
trail dissipates and the channel closes. This entire sequence of
events occurs in less than a second. The master station then
returns to sending the probe signal to initiate the process.
Because of the short duration of the meteor trail and the
random nature of meteors entering the atmosphere, as much informa-
tion as possible must be passed over the rapidly fading propaga-
tion path. The majority of text messages transmitted over an MBC
system are too long to be sent over a single trail. As a result,
long text messages are divided into a number of smaller sections.
Each of these sections is small enough to be transmitted over a
single trail. These smaller sections are referred to as
"packets".11 Each packet contains essential administrative
information, such as bit sequence for synchronization, station
identification, and error control. This information ensures
correct reassembly of the original message and delivery to the
proper addressee. When a long text message consisting of several
packets is transmitted over an MBC system, the transmitting
station will send as many packets of information as possible over
an open channel. However, as the trail fades and the signal
strength falls below a fixed threshold, the channel will close.
The transmitting station will store any packets not transmitted
until another meteor trail forms and is usable to transmit the
remaining packets of information. The receiving station also
places packets of information in que until all packets associated
with a particular message have been received. Once all packets
have been accounted for by the receiving station, they are
reassembled into the logical sequence of the original message.
At present, there are three basic equipment configurations
for MBC systems. These are one station to one station, or point-
to-point communications, one station to many remote stations, and
interconnecting many stations, or complex networks. The simplest
form of MBC station is a network composed of just two stations.
This point-to-point configuration requires minimal consideration
given to station addressing or coordination. A more complex sys-
tem is the one station to many remote stations composition. This
network connects a single master station to a large number of
remotes and is ideally suited for an information gathering/teleme-
try system such as AMBCS or SNOTEL. It can also be used as a
"broadcast" mode communication system. The most complex MBC
system involves interconnecting many stations. This config-
uration is similar to the previous system except several sets of
master and remote networks are interconnected. The increased
system complexity compounds coordination problems and requires
more detailed message formats and communication procedures.12
An MBC system operates by transmitting packets of digitized
information when a meteor trail is usable for the reflection or
re-radiation of radio waves. This form of communications provides
numerous advantages over the more conventional types of systems,
such as HF/VHF single channel radio, satellite and VHF/SHF LOS
multichannel, and cable systems. An MBC system, used as a means
of BLOS communications, ranging from 0-1200km, is less expensive
to install and operate than existing systems because of its
reduced requirements and costs associated with extensive ground
station facilities, elaborate antenna systems, and expensive
satellites. In addition, an MBC system is simple to operate,
requiring minimal training and considerably less operator
intervention than a typical HF circuit that requires an
experienced individual to monitor it and make numerous frequency
changes in order to maintain the circuit reliability. Meteor
scatter propagation also provides an inherently low probability of
intercept and detection (LPI/LPD) characteristics and anti-jam
capabilities because of the burst mode of transmission, the small
signal footprint, and random nature of the communication path.13
For an enemy to detect or jam such a system, he would have to be
very close to either the transmitter or receiver. In essence, he
would have to share the same geometry relative to the meteor trail
as the MBC stations and fall within the relatively small signal
footprint. This fact makes MBC systems more resistant to
interception, detection, and jamming than conventional systems.
Finally, an MBC system has significantly higher reliability than
HF and satellite systems following a nuclear detonation.
Following a nuclear explosion, the various layers of the
ionosphere become highly absorptive to radio waves due to the vast
increase in free electrons. Although MBC will initially be
effected by a nuclear detonation, the recovery time will be
considerably faster than that of the typical HF or satellite
system. The D layer of the ionosphere where MBC radio wave propa-
gation primarily occurs, recovers considerably faster than the E
and F layers that HF propagation depend on and where satellite
transmissions must traverse.14 Most literature indicates that an
MBC network could be reestablished, albeit at a degraded level, in
a few minutes following a nuclear event.
MBC systems have several distinct disadvantages when compared
to conventional BLOS communication systems. The greatest problem
with MBC is its limited throughput when compared with existing
long-haul systems. Currently, MBC is a low capacity system and is
ill-suited to support the high capacity information demands of the
modern battlefield. Current systems cannot support data rates in
excess of a few hundred bits per second (BPS) nor support voice
communications. Existing HF systems are capable of data rates of
1200 BPS while satellite systems can operate at speeds well in
excess of 2400 BPS. By the very nature of the random meteor
trails, MBC systems must wait until conditions are correct before
transmission can occur. With available technology, although
the waiting time for usable trails is only seconds or less, the
wait requires buffering for data service and precludes normal
voice communications. The traditional BLOS systems can provide
real-time communications with a voice capability. An MBC system
also operates most efficiently in a narrow range of frequencies in
the lower VHF band. However, the spectrum in this band is
extremely crowded with both military and commercial applications
and obtaining frequencies that would not interfere with the weak
signal strength of the reflected/re-radiated MBC signal would be
difficult. Finally, the range that an MBC system could effective-
ly cover has been a controversial issue. The maximum range of
2000km that MBC can cover has not been disputed. The minimum
distance has been questioned. Some schools of thought contend
that effective MBC can be achieved with 0km separation between
stations while others contend that a minimum separation of
approximately 400km is required between two stations to achieve
the area of common sky necessary for meteor trail communications.
The proponents of this theory attribute connectivity between
stations closer than 400km as a result of LOS propagation.
Regardless of whether communications occur as a result of meteor
burst propagation or by traditional LOS means, MBC systems provide
an inherent flexibility over existing communication means. The
capability of providing connectivity in both LOS and BLOS ranges
using the same VHF configuration has a significant advantage
over other BLOS systems, such as HF.
As already mentioned, MBC is a mature technology. The
knowledge gained from the early years of research and observation
of the early operational systems has resulted in a wealth of MBC
data. This knowledge, combined with technological advances and
innovations, is rapidly transforming MBC systems once
characterized as slow and bulky. All major improvement trends
have focused on the same goals of increasing throughput,
decreasing the size of the equipment, improving the the LPI/LPD
characteristics, and lowering production costs. Most recently,
the integration of solid-state microelectronics into MBC systems
has reduced their size and enhanced their capabilities. Advances
in equipment with greater signal processing capability have
dramatically increased the information throughput of MBC systems.
The higher throughputs, considered with the inherent reliability/
survivability characteristics of meteor burst propagation as well
as indications of even further potential improvements, indicate
great potential for supporting tactical command, control,
communications and intelligence (C3I) systems.
The significant advances made in meteor burst technology in
the past five years, with the probability of order-of-magnitude
improvements in current performance levels in the very near future
and the advantages that MBC has over conventional telecommunica-
tion mediums, suggests robust tactical military application and
potential strategic missions. The use of MBC systems by the
military has been the subject of much study and specific
applications were thoroughly reviewed by John D. Oetting.15 All
of these studies have confirmed the utility of MBC as a means of
supporting specific military requirements. However, these studies
also identified the low throughput of MBC as a major limiting
factor. Nevertheless, the general consensus continues to be that
MBC is a viable communications media that can augment other exist-
ing communication systems to insure continuous and reliable
service in support of critical military requirements.
The inherent flexibility, mobility, simplicity, jamming
resistance, LPI/LPD characteristics, and nuclear survivability of
MBC systems, combined with the BLOS long-haul communications cap-
ability, enhances C3I at the theater and tactical force level.
Although MBC is ill-suited to support high throughput requirements
of existing high capacity systems, there are a number of low
capacity, long-haul critical requirements that could be satisfied
or augmented by an MBC system. Some examples of military appli-
cations that would be suitable for an MBC system are:
(a) Transmission of fire control instructions to remotely
located weapon systems.
(b) Transmission of fixed format messages between front line
units and their higher headquarters.
(c) Providing communications connectivity between a command
element and a maneuvering unit BLOS.
(d) Remote tracking of the positions of BLOS platforms such
as ships, vehicles, and aircraft.
(e) Providing telemetered data from remotely located sensor/
(f) Providing communications connectivity between remotely
located reconnaissance teams and higher headquarters.
The military is actively involved with MBC systems. As
already discussed, the Air Force has implemented an MBC system as
a backup communication system connecting 13 remote radar sites in
Alaska with the ROCC at Elmendorf AFB. The Air Force also manages
the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) MBC network,
consisting of three master stations and eighteen remote terminals,
covering two thirds of the United States. This system is a backup
for operational HF communications and its primary purpose is
strategic reconstitution. The Navy has done considerable testing
of MBC systems with particular emphasis on its applicability to
tactical anti-submarine warfare (ASW). During FLEETEX 3-89 the
Navy successfully tested an MBC system for tactical ASW
connectivity and achieved 5 of 7 test objectives. Most notably,
an MBC network with an 800 mile radius was established between
Norfolk and Bermuda, which included 4 to 6 remote ships, and also
resulted in successful integration of P-3 aircraft. The Army
is also examining the feasibility of MBC applications for certain
Special Forces operations.
The dimensions of the modern battlefield have expanded sign-
ificantly as a result of improvements in technology. The
proliferation of numerous highly sophisticated and lethal weapon
systems has necessitated dispersion of forces to insure survivi-
ability on the battlefield. This expansion in the area of
operation has increased the requirement for additional BLOS
communication systems to assure adequate command and control of
widely separated units. Future amphibious operations will further
challenge existing long-haul communication systems and increase
the requirement for additional BLOS means. The threat posed by
enemy weapon systems will necessitate the amphibious task force
to remain a considerable distance from the shore. This will
theoretically place it out of range of the enemy's weapons and
reduce the possibility of detection which will undoubtedly aid in
tactical surprise. Continued advances in maritime technology
will eventually enable the MAGTF to conduct amphibious assaults
from a totally OTH posture. With this potential increase in the
BLOS communication requirement, the Marine Corps is investigating
the feasibility of utilizing MBC systems in various BLOS applica-
tions to augment existing systems.
The BLOS communication requirements for a MAGTF are already
numerous and the growing need for an OTH amphibious assault
capability will dramatically increase this already strained
communications means. Since all ship-to-shore communications in
such a scenario would be BLOS, an MBC system could be effectively
employed on low volume data circuits. The additional capability
offered by MBC could help satisfy the increased long-haul commun-
ication requirements created by OTH amphibious operations.
An MBC system could also be used to support potential
contingency missions for a MAGTF that are to be conducted in the
northern latitudes. The strategic importance of Norway to NATO's
northern flank could result in a future site for a MAGTF
deployment. Satellite and HF radio communication in these high
latitudes have proven to be very difficult and unreliable on
numerous exercises due to severe ionospheric conditions and the
extremely low satellite-to-horizon angle, which is often
obstructed by the mountainous terrain. Existing MBC systems
operating at these higher latitudes have routinely demonstrated
considerable success in BLOS communications.
Because of the potentially large size of a MAGTF's area of
operation, which could range in size from a few hundred to several
thousand square kilometers, an MBC system installed at the command
element (CE) could provide an effective inter-MAGTF network. The
CE, which is normally located a considerable distance from the
forward edge of the battle area (FEBA), would operate the master
station while the ground combat element (GCE), the air combat
element (ACE), the combat service support element (CSSE), and the
amphibious task force would possess the remote stations. Such
a system could pass short, formatted text messages to these remote
subscribers. This MBC system could act as a backup path to a num-
ber of different MAGTF communication circuits such as the
Tactical, Command, Intelligence, or Communication Coordination
radio nets. An MBC system could easily act as an overload circuit
when any of the traditional BLOS communication links were
saturated with high precedence message traffic.
A number of the tactical applications of an MBC system capi-
talize on the system's LPI/LPD and anti-jam characteristics, which
make it especially suitable for operations deep inside enemy
territory. Teams from Force Reconnaissance Company or Division
Reconnaissance Battalion operate well forward of the FEBA and con-
duct reconnaissance and surveillance on enemy activity. For these
types of operations to be successful, considerable stealth and
maneuverability are required. Manpackable MBC systems, with their
inherent LPI/LPD characteristics, facilitate the covert nature of
such operations and permit the transmittal of short messages at
near real-time speed. An MBC system could also provide an
additional BLOS communication means to the Light Armored Infantry
Battalion (LAIB) in its reconnaissance or screening missions that
could take elements of that unit over 100km forward of the FEBA.16
The reduced threat of enemy interception and detection insures the
covert nature of these operations and also reduces their vulner-
ability to the enemy's indirect weapons fire.
Finally, an MBC system has considerable potential in the area
of remote sensors. Currently, sensors in the Marine Corps'
inventory have a nominal range of approximately 50 miles. Radio
relay equipment must be employed to extend this range.17 However,
the use of an MBC system to provide sensor telemetry data would
not require the addition of a retransmission site to enhance its
already long range. In addition, the anti-jam characteristic of
these systems allows relatively reliable (error free) reporting
from unmanned sensors of various types to fusion centers or other
command/intelligence centers from distances equal to the maximum
range of the MBC system. Based on this fact, sensors could be
either hand emplaced or air dropped much deeper into enemy terri-
tory and subsequently provide intelligence and earlier warning
to the MAGTF on the potential enemy threat or capability.
Recognizing the limitations of conventional communication
systems, the threats against BLOS communications from enemy elec-
tronic warfare capabilities, and the rapid saturation of current
BLOS communication systems during amphibious operations, the
Marine Corps has actively pursued the aquisition of an MBC system.
The Marine Corps is developing the MAGTF Expeditionary Command
Communications System (MECCS) to augment existing long-haul BLOS
communication systems, such as the TSC-95 and TSC-15 HF systems,
with a new and enhanced capability.18 The MECCS package will com-
bine the capabilities of a regular HF system with a satellite
system and also include an MBC capability. Four prototypes are
scheduled to be built and tested during FY 1991. However, due to
severe budget constraints, this program, like so many other
defense programs, may slide into the outyears or be cancelled
MBC is a communications medium that promises considerable
advantages over conventional communications means. In such areas
as LPI/LPD, anti-jamming characteristics, nuclear survivability,
and resistance to atmospheric conditions, MBC as a BLOS communica-
tion system has significant capabilities that could be exploited
by the military. The system's inherent covertness, due to its
LPI/LPD and its anti-jam nature, provides the military with a form
of communications with significant advantages over conventional
systems and also provides an additional means of BLOS
communications, which would greatly assist future MAGTF commanders
during the execution of an amphibious assault. Although an MBC
system has many advantages, it is by no means a panecea for the
constraints and limitations of existing systems. A viable MBC
system would only provide a means for an alternate or additional
long-haul channel of communications. Such a system would both
supplement and compliment existing MAGTF communication systems and
provide a means to fulfill the increased requirement for BLOS
communications. An MBC system also has numerous disadvantages,
with its limited throughput being the most critical. However,
advances in technology, in conjunction with the inherent
capabilities of MBC communications, provide for a new path for
passing information between various subscribers with minimal
concern for enemy interdiction. An MBC system will provide the
commander with an additional means of augmenting his C3I systems
which will ultimately help reduce the uncertainty of the
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