Company: United States Navy
Tracing its roots back to the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Navy came into being in 1775 and was established officially in the U.S. Constitution in 1787. The U.S. Navy functions as the maritime branch of the U.S. military, operating 287 ships and roughly 3,700 aircraft. Apart from 330,000 active-duty officers and enlisted men, the Navy also employs about 120,000 reserve sailors and nearly 200,000 civilians.
Ships at sea rely on satellite communication for internet access, as the obvious considerations of distance and mobility make any other kind of connectivity impossible. However, satellite communication is extremely expensive, relatively slow, and unreliable, having a marked effect on ship-to-ship communications. For instance, a carrier strike group can carry nuclear weapons, but it does not have enough bandwidth to hold a live videoconference between the captains of its constituent ships. With the increasing use of computers in naval operations, a reliable, fast network between ships became an increasingly attractive option for the Navy.
Vendor of Choice: Intellicheck Mobilisa
Intellicheck Mobilisa is a wireless technology and security company based in Port Townsend, Wash. Mobilisa has made government ID cards, including the student ID cards for the Air Force Academy, and has provided scanning and identification services for the Transportation Security Administration. Mobilisa had been working on technologies called Wireless Over Water (WOW) and Floating Area Network (FAN) that allow ships at sea to be networked wirelessly when Congress earmarked money for Mobilisa to adapt the technology to the Navy.
The Problem in Depth
Because of the remoteness and extreme mobility of naval vessels, the only way to get the internet at sea is by satellite. As technology advances and the military features more and more computer networks, fast, reliable, and cheap ship-to-ship communications become more and more important.
The Navy is becoming so computer-conscious that in fall 2009, the 10th Fleet was reactivated without any ships or plans to operate any ships. Instead, the 10th Fleet will serve as Fleet Cyber Command. With current technology, if someone on an aircraft carrier wants to email someone on a destroyer in the same battle group, the email has to go up to a satellite, be processed, and come back down again. Putting a communications satellite in orbit is extremely expensive, and the added distance the signal has to travel slows the flow of information.
With such reliance on remotes, GPS, and interoperability, satellites simply were no longer up to the task. “We’ve for a long time had the capability to use satellite connections,” says Navy project manager Lance Flitter. “We wanted to be able to increase the bandwidth without using satellite, which is very costly.” An over-water wireless network, by contrast, would allow ships to share information quickly and cheaply.