While much of the United States waits for reliable 4G service, the Navy is quietly rolling out their own 4G project. The Navy's 4G system will be used for multiple purposes. Starting in 2013, 4G Long-Term Evolution systems based on existing commercial products will be unveiled on the U.S.S. Kearsarge, the U.S.S. San Antonio, and the U.S.S. Whidbey Island. The Navy hopes that fast, accessible smartphone Internet for sailor use will free up important on-ship bandwidth for military needs and allow new military products to be developed. All three ships are part of the U.S.S. Kearsarge Expeditionary Force; a justification and approval form (PDF) for the project indicates that 4G is a “mission critical requirement” for the Counter-Piracy Task Force, which primarily operates off the Horn of Africa. 4G can fight pirates!
Technology for the product is expected to be supplied by D.C.-area telecom firm Oceus Networks and will give service members access to high-speed Internet (8-15 megabits per second) which will be faster than the average home broadband connection, even at sea. The 4G systems on all three ships will have a line-of-sight range of 15-20 miles, which can be extended to 30 miles with the use of a base station on a Marine H-1 helicopter. Naval Air Systems Command's Larry Hollingsworth told NextGov's Bob Brewin that the 4G systems will be used to free up satellite bandwidth for military use. At the moment, satellite Internet use by troops keeping touch with home makes up a considerable portion of bandwidth.
According to industry journal Military Intelligence Technology, one sample use for 4G could be helicopters transmitting sensor data to Marines in small boats preparing to board vessels infiltrated by pirates or terrorists. Marines and sailors in the Expeditionary Force will be provided with custom Android handsets equipped with a basic whiteboarding app in addition to standard voice/data/camera capabilities. The Android handsets can be used to transmit non-classified information only; Naval Air Systems Command is working with the NSA to create a solution that will allow the phones to transmit classified data.
As currently proposed, the Kearsarge project is a pilot for the Navy. If successful, 4G will be rolled out across the Navy in coming years.
[Image of U.S.S. Whidbey Island: Courtesy U.S. Navy/Christopher L. Clark]