The six ships, one submarine, and more than 5,500 Sailors and Marines of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG)-1 are getting the chance to test and evaluate a new low cost, low power, optical communications system. The Office of Naval Research supported development of four prototype systems, called LightSpeed, that use infrared light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to communicate point to point.
The prototypes easily attach to current handheld and "Big Eyes" binoculars to allow transmission of digital voice over a range of two to five nautical miles, and could be used for communication between ships at sea and platforms in the air and on the ground. LightSpeed operates outside the radio frequency spectrum and has essentially unlimited bandwidth. Efforts are under way with Naval Network Warfare Command to seek approval of optical transmission of full motion video and data at 1Mb/s.
Torrey Pines Logic, Inc. (San Diego), has been working on LightSpeed technology since 2002, and came to the Navy´s attention in 2003 when Commander Gisele Bonitz of ESG-1 first saw it demonstrated. When Bonitz wondered if LightSpeed could be used on ships, her command´s science advisor encouraged her to contact ONR´s Tech Solutions office, which runs a website through which Sailors and Marines can ask for—and suggest—solutions to technology challenges (www.techsolutions.navy.mil).
In 2004, Torrey Pines began receiving ONR funding through Tech Solutions for prototype development, and also through its Information, Electronics, and Surveillance Science and Technology Department to develop an advanced beamsplitter. The company now receives Tech Solutions funding for advanced prototype development and field testing, with project management provided by SPAWAR Systems Center in Charleston, S.C.
LightSpeed can be attached to any optical device and offers simultaneous voice and data transmission; eye-safe, secure communication; and an ultimate range up to the horizon. These benefits could outweigh limiting factors such as necessity of maintaining line of sight and degraded performance in dense fog.
Initial applications will focus on vessel boarding search and seizure communications to pass biometric data back to ship, as well as ship communications during "radio blackout" situations. LightSpeed technology is also being considered for submarine communications with aircraft, explosive ordnance disposal communications, unassisted UAV landing/surveillance, flight deck personnel/asset tracking and communications, and convoy communications.