It’s almost an axiom of technology that some of the greatest innovations in consumer electronics come from the military. For example, microwave ovens are linked to the first radar technology developed by the military in World War II.
Now the military is revisiting that old technology in the hopes that it may lead to another level of innovation in communications.
In December, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that it intends to develop a fiber optic equivalent communications backbone that can be deployed worldwide. Using fiber optics as the standard raises the bar almost implausibly high. DARPA itself points out that fiber optic cables provide the core backbone for military and civilian networks, enabling Internet, phone, video and other data to move at super-high speeds with virtually no degradation over long distances. In deployed military environments, other technologies are used but not with the same results.
Now the military wants to bring some parity to that equation. DARPA’s goal is to create a 100-gigabit-per-second data link that achieves a range greater than 200 kilometers between planes in flight and a range greater than 100 kilometers between a plane and the ground.
To put that into perspective, consumer wireless devices can now provide a connection that measures about 30 megabits per second.
To achieve this lofty goal, DARPA has set its sights on radio frequency technology. Other wireless technologies lack the range and the ability to overcome the biggest obstacle in this endeavor, which is to transmit through all manner of natural airborne interference. Coincidentally, these are the same obstacles that radar technology faced more than 60 years ago.