In 1997, the Defense Department began its quest for the perfect family of radios: software-defined radios that, like computers, could be reprogrammed for different missions and could communicate with everything the US military used. Digital signal processing could adaptively use available radio spectrum based on the needs of the moment, turning soldiers, tanks, planes, and ships into nodes of a broadband radio-based network.
The goal was to solve radio problems like this one in Afghanistan, detailed by the Center for Public Integrity in January 2012. Soldiers who watched an ambush forming on a ridge nearby found themselves limited by the hugely variable needs of their many radio systems:
They had short-range models for talking with the reconstruction team; longer-range versions for reaching headquarters 25 miles away; and a backup satellite radio in case the mountains blocked the transmission. An Air Force controller carried his own radio for talking to jet fighters overhead and a separate radio for downloading streaming video from the aircraft. Some of these radios worked only while the troopers were stationary; others were simply too cumbersome to operate on the move.