Book Review: Tactical Communications for the Digitized Battlefield by M.J. Ryan and M.R. Frater


By Gareth Digby, Vitech Principal Systems Engineer

In Tactical Communications for the Digitized Battlefield the authors discuss the disparate elements that have to be brought together in order to design a system solution:  the technology’s capabilities and constraints along with the organization’s structure and operations. Although this text focuses on tactical communication solutions, the need to understand the technology and the organization is important for the delivery of any solution.

In Chapter 1 “The Need for an Architecture” the authors describe why there is a need for an architecture when defining a solution. The authors draw out the importance of understanding the operational environment and the constraints on the technologies as the architecture is created. In the case of tactical communications they present the reasons for the need for new architectures: the increasing digitization of the battlefield and the strain this places on previous tactical communications solutions.

Chapter 2 “An Introduction to Communications Technology” provides an overview of a number of communication technologies. This gives the reader a grounding in the capabilities and constraints associated with the technologies. The material provides sufficient detail for the reader to understand aspects discussed later in the book without trivializing the topic or overwhelming the reader with too much detail. Within the chapter, the discussion of network topologies gives the reader an insight into the broad design patterns that are available.

The organization structure is discussed in Chapter 3 “Introduction to Land Force Structures.” This chapter provides those without a military background an understanding of the operational arrangements and the potential distances required for communications within the various echelons.

Chapter 4 “Development of Tactical Communications” introduces how tactical communications solutions have been developed historically. The chapter then brings together the material from Chapters 2 and 3 to show how the various communications technologies have been used to support the force structure. The authors look forward in Chapter 5 “A Communications Architecture for the Digitized Battlefield.” They draw out the design drivers that are likely to be significant as an architecture is developed to meet the needs of the digitized battlefield.

Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9 describe, respectively, how the “Tactical Trunk Subsystem,” “The Combat Radio Subsystem,” “Tactical Data Distribution Subsystem,” and “Tactical Airborne Subsystem” could be implemented. The tradeoffs that are necessary given the capabilities and constraints of the technologies are also discussed. Chapter 10 “Tactical Network Interfaces” describes the internal and external interfaces between the subsystems and the strategic communications system(s).

The text provides a comprehensive reference on tactical communications system solutions. The authors have included extensive references, at the end of each chapter, to allow the reader to continue developing his/her knowledge on a particular topic. The text has a good index and a good glossary of terms, making it an ideal reference in its own right.

The textbook is ideal for a systems engineer who is new to dealing with communications technologies and/or military operational systems, especially systems at the tactical edge. Even those with an understanding of (communication) technologies and (military) organizations may find the book a useful guide in showing how those disparate elements are brought together to create an architecture and a system solution.

Ryan, M. J., and Michael R. Frater. Tactical Communications for the Digitized Battlefield. Norwood: Artech House, 2002. Print.

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