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Military Communications

A Unified Solution to Cognitive Radio

Programming, Test and Evaluation for
Tactical Communications
Yalin Sagduyu, Sohraab Soltani, Tugba Erpek, Yi Shi, and Jason Li

The authors present the Abstract with commercial users (e.g., mobile and fixed
design and implemen- wireless broadband use, LTE, and electronic news
tation of a visual and Spectrum is limited, but the demand for it is gathering). For instance, AWS-3 auction aims to
modular radio software growing steadily with new users, applications, release 1695–1710 MHz, 1755–1780 MHz, and
and services in both commercial and tactical 2155–2180 MHz frequency bands, raising both
programming tool that communications. The current paradigm of static opportunities and challenges for tactical and com-
supports easy, fast, and spectrum allocation cannot satisfy this demand, mercial users to share the spectrum.
radio-agnostic develop- resulting in a congested, contested environment Tactical networks span a significant part of
ment of cognitive radio with poor spectrum efficiency. Tactical radios available spectrum resources, and should be
and network protocols need to share spectrum with other in- and out-of- designed, implemented, tested, and evaluated
network tactical and commercial radios, subject with the goal of improving spectrum efficiency
and security mechanisms. to potential jamming and other security attacks. and mission success. The legacy form of a static
This tool is fully integrat- Cognitive radio provides tactical communications spectrum allocation poses a major obstacle for
ed with a unified T&E with new means of spectrum sharing, cohabita- efficient use of limited wireless resources. This
framework that applies tion configurability, and adaptation to improve challenge has promoted substantial research and
the same SDR solution communication rates, connectivity, robustness, development into cognitive radio and software-de-
and situational awareness, all translated to net- fined radio (SDR) technologies with network-level
to high fidelity simulation work-centric mission success. A systematic solu- perception, learning, adaptation, and optimization
and emulation tests under tion to SDR programming and test and evaluation for efficient spectrum utilization. Cognitive radio
a common, controllable, (T&E) is needed to address spectrum challenges emerges as the enabling technology to support
and repeatable scenario. with the network-centric mission success set as configurability of radios on the fly and access to
the primary goal. Once equipped with cognitive broader pools of spectrum, and more efficient
radio capabilities, tactical radios can quickly and utilization of current wireless resources, playing a
reliably discover the white-space and effectively key role for the next generation of both commer-
use spectrum opportunities across time, space, cial and tactical communications [1].
and frequency. This article presents the design To build the next generation of tactical network
and implementation of a visual and modular radio communication systems with cognitive radios,
software programming tool that supports easy, a systematic approach including a full scope of
fast, and radio-agnostic development of cognitive design, implementation, and test and evaluation
radio and network protocols and security mech- (T&E) environment is necessary with the system-
anisms. This tool is fully integrated with a unified atic and unified execution of the following five
T&E framework that applies the same SDR solu- components (Fig. 1a).
tion to high fidelity simulation and emulation tests Network Protocols: Cognitive radio uses a
under a common, controllable, and repeatable “cognitive engine” to learn the spectrum accu-
scenario. This unified approach makes prototyp- rately with small overhead, and then promptly
ing of cognitive radio capabilities with tactical adapts to spectrum dynamics, including channel
radios faster, easier, and cost-effective. occupancy, interference, congestion, and mobil-
ity. Instead of a separate and static protocol
Introduction abstraction, cross-layer design appears a viable
Spectrum resources are scarce, and they are not way to integrate spectrum sensing and dynamic
efficiently utilized with a static and dedicated allo- spectrum access (DSA), routing, and other net-
cation of frequency bands and their sporadic use. work protocols in a unified cognitive network pro-
Tactical communications are typically assigned tocol stack. This protocol stack includes physical
legacy frequency bands for exclusive spectrum (PHY), medium access control (MAC), and higher
use. However, spectrum becomes crowded with layers that optimally strike a balance between per-
the growing demand (e.g., multimedia) of com- formance and overhead/complexity trade-offs.
mercial communications, for example, LTE, WiFi Network Security: The configuration and
and unlicensed national information infrastructure adaptation of cognitive radio is vulnerable to var-
(U-NII) devices. Therefore, new means are neces- ious forms of attacks due to the broadcast nature
sary to enable tactical radios to share spectrum of the wireless medium in anti-access/area-denial
Digital Object Identifier:
10.1109/MCOM.2017.1700222 The authors are with Intelligent Automation, Inc.

12 0163-6804/17/$25.00 © 2017 IEEE IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017

Test and evaluation

Cognitive radio network security

Emulation Cognitive radio platforms
Jamming attack
Field test
SSDF attack
Commercial SDRs
emulation attack
Protocol Context-aware
violation systematic approach WARP
attack for tactical
with cognitive radios Tactical SDRs
Cognitive radio network protocols

Spectrum sensing
Spectrum planning AN/PRC-154A

Dynamic spectrum Cognitive radio programming WNAN

access (DSA)
Physical (PHY) GNU radio
layer design

monitoring REDHAWK
planning Cognitive
routing LabView



Performance metrics

Network size Throughput

Mobility LPI/LPD
range Robustness
Delay Overhead
PU traffic




Figure 1. a) Context-aware systematic approach for tactical communications with cognitive radios; b) scenarios and performance met-
rics for tactical networks.

IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017 13

The goal is to improve (A2AD) environments. These attacks range from Network Control Environment: A unified net-
jamming to insider threats including spectrum work control environment is presented to set up
network-centric mission sensing data falsification (SSDF), primary user nodes, configure them as virtual (for simulation
success according to (PU) emulation, and protocol violation attacks. tests) or real (for emulation tests), set up the net-
Novel means are sought to combat these securi- work scenario (including topology, channel, and
various criteria includ-
ty issues and maintain the mission-critical perfor- mobility effects), assign the SDR code to virtu-
ing but not limited to mance in tactical networks of cognitive radios. al nodes in simulations, or port the SDR code to
assured connectivity, Platforms: The use of commercial radios is SDR platforms for emulation tests.
likely the first step to quickly prototype, test, and •Simulation Environment: High fidelity sim-
coexistence (cohab- evaluate cognitive radio capabilities. The next step ulation is based on CORE and EMANE. CORE
itation), spectrum is to implement these capabilities with tactical provides the high fidelity simulation environment
radios. Once mature, cognitive radio technolo- with a real network stack and traffic for emulating
situational awareness,
gies can be ported to tactical SDRs with different networks on one or more machines [2]. PHY/
minimum latency, levels of size, weight, and power-cost (SWaP-C) MAC is emulated by various models (e.g., RF pipe
maximum geographic, characteristics and flexibility to enable cognitive or 802.11) of EMANE [3].
radio capabilities. •Network Channel Emulator: The same SDR
bandwidth and time Programming: Cognitive radios require fast code used for simulations can be used for emula-
availability of spectrum and efficient SDR programming of protocol mod- tions tests with real SDR platforms. Network chan-
ules. Various commercial tools (e.g., GNU Radio, nel emulators are needed to emulate wireless
resources and cyber channels among SDRs in in-lab tests and support
REDHAWK, LabView, and MATLAB) are available
protection. to program and control SDRs at the software level controllable, repeatable, and scalable hardware-
or field programmable gate array (FPGA) level in-the-loop experiments. In the featured setup, a
for general signal processing purposes typically network channel emulator (a radio channel emu-
focused on the PHY layer. In addition, higher-lay- lator supporting a full mesh network connectivity),
er protocols are needed as part of SDR program- RFnest [4], is used to emulate radio channels and
ming. For fast implementation, there is a growing RF interactions among radios, and support poten-
demand for a user-friendly visual tool that can tial interactions of real (emulated) and virtual (sim-
automatically generate radio-agnostic codes for ulated) radios. RFnest adjusts channel conditions
the full protocol network stack based on specified (e.g., attenuation, delay, multipath, and Doppler)
modules in the SDR architecture. according to the scenario generated for tactical
Test and Evaluation: A cognitive radio network communications.
involves various tunable parameters to be exten- With this unified SDR programming and T&E
sively tested for seamless integration of network environment, a user can easily, quickly, and reli-
protocols. The standard procedure is to sepa- ably design and implement cognitive radio proto-
rate simulation studies, such as Common Open cols across the network protocol stack, and test
Research Emulator (CORE) [2] and Extendable and evaluate them with both simulation and in-lab
Mobile Ad Hoc Network Emulator (EMANE) [3] hardware-in-the-loop emulation tests under realis-
and emulation tests with radios. A systematic tic tactical network scenarios.
T&E approach is needed to unify them under a The rest of the article is organized as follows.
common, controllable, and repeatable scenario: The following section presents a novel systematic
a) scalable and high fidelity simulations and b) solution to network-centric SDR programming.
in-lab radio-in-the-loop emulation tests with con- Then we present a systematic unified solution to
trolled RF characteristics. cognitive radio network T&E. The final section
The goal is to improve network-centric mission concludes the article.
success according to various criteria including but
not limited to assured connectivity, coexistence A Novel Systematic Solution to
(cohabitation), spectrum situational awareness, Network-Centric SDR Programming
minimum latency, maximum geographic, band-
width, and time availability of spectrum resourc- State-of-the-Art SDR Programming Tools
es and cyber protection. Potential scenarios and There are various ways to program cognitive radi-
performance metrics are shown in Fig. 1b. To os. Some examples of the state-of-the-art SDR
achieve this goal, this article presents the novel programming software are listed below:
design and implementation of a visual and mod- GNU Radio: GNU Radio [5] is a free and
ular radio software programming tool to support open source software development toolkit that
easy, fast, and radio-agnostic development of provides signal processing blocks to implement
cognitive network protocols and security mecha- software radios. GNU Radio can be used with
nisms. This fully developed capability is integrated existing SDRs, such as universal software radio
with a unified T&E environment that applies the peripherals (USRPs), or without hardware in a
same SDR solution to high fidelity simulation and simulation-like environment.
emulation tests under the common scenario con- REDHAWK: REDHAWK [6] is an SDR frame-
trol. The novelty of this unified solution consists of work to support real-time software radio appli-
two main components. cations. REDHAWK develops and tests software
EZPro: A visual and modular radio software modules called “Components” and composition
programming tool is presented to generate a of Components into “Waveform Applications”
workflow of cognitive radio protocols and secu- deployed on a single or multiple network-enabled
rity mechanisms, develop individual modules for computer(s).
cognitive radio functionalities, and automatically LabView: LabVIEW Communications [7] from
generate the end-to-end software code that can National Instruments offers a graphical design
be used with simulation and emulation tests (with environment integrated with the USRP. Lab-
real radios). VIEW offers parallel constructs spanning multiple

14 IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017

cores, threads, and targets, and supports real-time the spectrum sensing results and decides The user of this soft-
embedded processors and FPGAs. what mitigation techniques will be used to
MATLAB: MATLAB and Simulink [8] are used ensure continuous operation. ware either leverages
for wireless design, simulation, and analysis on The user can visually revise/extend the work- the built-in code blocks
SDRs such as setting up SDR hardware with pre- flow. The four main steps in executing EZPro (Fig.
configured radio functions, and performing real- 3) are: or generates new code
time signal analysis and measurement. MATLAB 1. Drag an individual code block from exist- blocks. A user designs
and Simulink provide support packages for pop- ing blocks or design an individual block to a workflow by dragging
ular SDR hardware such as USRP, Zynq [9], and make the workflow (EZPro provides desig-
RTL-SDR [10] Radio. nated spots in the template to insert the user different blocks into the
These existing SDR programming tools are typ- code). design panel and con-
ically focused on digital signal processing (DSP) at 2. Connect blocks in the workflow by using the
the PHY layer. The extended capabilities that are Tip tool (there is a separate enumerated con- necting them, and then
needed to implement cognitive radio solutions nection for each parameter passed among tests the workflow in
effectively with tactical radios include: blocks). the same environment.
• Full network protocol stack (beyond PHY/ 3. Configure each block using the Parameter
DSP) Panel. EZPro then generates
• Executable, radio-agnostic code 4. Automatically generate source code for the standalone software
• The same code used for simulation and hard- workflow (use EZPro interactive tools to run
ware testing and debug program source code) and exe- from the workflow that
• Operating system independence cute the program. is portable and exe-
• Dynamic modular workflow design After these four steps, program source code cutable outside of the
• User-friendly GUI with visual programming is automatically converted to standalone software
tools that is deployable to any systems with general-pur- EZPro environment.
• Modular I/O with message passing pose processors (GPPs).
• Visual module manager with edit/merge The computational cost of running EZPro
functions software alone is negligible (about 0.3 percent
CPU and 2.9 percent memory usage measured
EZPro as a Visual and with a laptop equipped with Intel Core i7 —
Modular SDR Programming Tool 2.9 GHz CPU and 8 GB RAM). The computa-
To address these gaps, this article presents the tional cost of running the developed software
design and implementation of EZPro as a visual depends on the implementation complexity,
and modular “Easy Programming” environment to such as the number of threads and the number
generate SDR software. The user of this software of blocks used.
either leverages the built-in code blocks or gener- EZPro aims to make the programming of tac-
ates new code blocks. A user designs a workflow tical SDR and prototyping cognitive radio capa-
by dragging different blocks into the design panel bilities faster, easier, and cost-effective. The SDR
and connecting them, and then tests the work- software generated through EZPro is radio-ag-
flow in the same environment. EZPro then gener- nostic and can run on any GPP. This way, we can
ates standalone software from the workflow that seamlessly integrate cognitive radio capabilities
is portable and executable outside of the EZPro into tactical radios without any change in radio
environment. architecture. Note that once the radio code is
A multithreaded back-end Python class with generated by EZPro and deployed at a radio, it
input/output ports and input arguments sup- runs without EZPro installation. The same code
ports each block. Different blocks communicate can be used with commercial SDRs for fast proto-
with each other through their connections over typing and evaluation of cognitive radio network
a queueing system that supports multi-thread- technologies before implementation on tactical
ed and multi-processor communication. EZPro SDRs.
provides user tools to generate software for Popular examples of commercial SDRs that
various network layers. Any existing software can be programmed with EZPro are USRPs Wire-
(e.g., GNU radio software blocks) can also be less Open Access Research Platform, (WARP),
wrapped as an EZPro block and reused in the bladeRF, HackRF, and Matchstiq. Examples of
workflow. tactical SDRs are AN/PRC-154 (Rifleman Radio),
Figure 2 shows an example EZPro workflow AN/PRC-152, and WNaN, which can be pro-
for the SDR software that will run at each cogni- grammed using a peripheral controller or through
tive radio. This workflow consists of several blocks implementation on a radio processor.
for different cognitive radio functionalities:
• The spectrum sensing block senses the envi- SDR Modules for EZPro Implementation
ronment and feeds the spectrum occupancy Cognitive radio is driven by a cognitive engine
results to the attack countermeasures and that integrates various network protocols, ide-
DSA blocks. Additionally, a spectrum data- ally both adaptive and robust. EZPro has been
base block can also be implemented that used for spectrum sensing, DSA, routing, and
connects to a database and pulls the expect- security functionalities for cognitive radios.
ed spectrum occupancy results. Below, we give a summary of cognitive radio
• The DSA block evaluates the incoming infor- network functionalities that can be implement-
mation regarding the spectrum occupancy ed as modules in the presented SDR program-
and determines the operating frequency. ming environment.
• The routing block decides on the next hop Spectrum Sensing: Cognitive radios discover
for the packets. spectrum opportunities in terms of idle chan-
• The attack countermeasures block analyzes nels via spectrum sensing [11]. A channel can

IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017 15

Receive 1
message 1 Send Generate
socket message traffic
(120) socket (715)
1 Process (124) 1
(122) F
1 P 1 1
Spectrum Spectrum 3 1 2 4 Message
sensing database to port 1
(645) (647) converter
1 1
3 1 2
1 Port
1 to
Learning Routing message
Dynamic (735)) 1
(742) converter
access (161)
1 1
(649) 1
counter- 1 1
Phy Send
measures message
(654) socket
1 (658) (723)


ensing database
(645) (647)

1 1

(649) 1



Figure 2. a) Example of EZPro workflow for SDR software; b) a closer look at an EZPro block with its connections to other blocks.

be detected as idle or busy by comparing the channels sensed to be available. Otherwise, if

accumulated energy of received signal to a pre- there are SUs only working on an unlicensed fre-
determined threshold (energy detector) or by quency, it is important not to interrupt existing
exploiting the embedded features in cognitive transmissions. This hierarchical spectrum sharing is
radio signals (cyclostationary sensing). To pre- typically facilitated by interference avoidance (no
vent poor sensing sensitivity and high sensing interference to PUs and existing SU transmissions
error due to device-level energy constraints, is allowed). Channel estimation and neighbor-
poor signal quality (due to fading or mobility), hood discovery are two integral parts of DSA to
and the hidden terminal problem, cooperative support real-time spectrum monitoring. The DSA
(or collaborative) sensing can combine mea- problem can also be translated to stealth (covert)
surements of multiple sensors into one common communications, where tactical radios attempt to
decision, either by soft combining of channel access the spectrum without being detected by
measurements or by hard combining of binary other radios.
channel sensing results. Cognitive Network Routing: In a multihop net-
DSA: PUs (e.g., TV broadcast or radar) have work communication setting, spectrum occupan-
dedicated channels, while tactical radios in the cy is time- and location-dependent. Therefore,
role of secondary users (SUs) need to access joint design of routing and DSA is needed without

16 IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017

Receive 1
message 1 Send Generate
socket message traffic
(120) socket (715)
1 Process (124) 1
(122) F
1 P 1 1
Spectrum Spectrum 3 1 2 4 Message
Spectrum sensing database (157)
to port 1
sensing (645) (647) converter
(640) 1 1 1
(717) 2
1 3 1 2
1 Port
1 to
Learning Routing
Dynamic (735)) (742) 1 message
spectrum converter
access (161)
1 1
(649) 1
counter- 1 1
Phy Send
measures message
(654) layer
adaptation socket
1 (658) (723)

Receive 1 Receive 1
Send message 1 Send Generate
message 1 Generate message
socket message traffic socket traffic
socket (120) socket (715)
(120) (715) (124)
1 Process (124) 1 1 Process 1
Packet Packet
F (122) F
(122) T
1 P 1 1 1 P 1 1
Message Spectrum Spectrum 3 1 2 4 Message
Spectrum Spectrum 3 1 2 4 encapsulate encapsulate to port 1
to port 1
3 sensing
(157) converter
1 1 1 1

3 1 2 3 1 2
1 1 Port
to 1 to
1 Learning Routing Learning Routing
Dynamic (735)) (742) 1 message Dynamic (735)) (742) 1 message
spectrum converter spectrum converter
access (161) access (161)
1 1 1
(649) 1 (649) 1
1 1
1 1
Attack Attack
1 1 counter- 1 1
counter- Send Phy Send
measures Phy measures
layer message layer message
(654) (654) socket
adaptation socket adaptation
1 (723) 1 (658) (723)
1 1

Figure 3. Four steps of EZPro execution.

maintaining any end-to-end path [12]. For exam- A Systematic Unified Solution to
ple, the backpressure algorithm can be used to
optimize a spectrum utility that consists of chan- Cognitive Radio Network Test and
nel quality (e.g., RSSI) and congestion (e.g., differ- Evaluation
ential queue backlog), and combine routing and
channel access decisions in a cross-layer optimiza- Cognitive radio technologies applied to tactical
tion framework. communications should be tested and evaluated
Attack countermeasures: Defense mecha- extensively before full-scale integration with mili-
nisms to a variety of attacks including jamming tary systems. Test and evaluation ranges from sim-
SSDF, PU emulation, and protocol violation ulations to the use of over-the-air wireless testbeds
attacks are needed. and hardware-in-the-loop network emulation tests.
•Jamming Attack: In A2/AD environments, Simulations: There are various network simu-
tactical radios may receive interference from lators, such as ns-2/3, OPNET, and QualNet, that
in-network or out-of-network transmissions as well can be used to test and evaluate cognitive radio
as deliberate jammers. network protocols. They simulate traffic, protocol,
•SSDF Attack: Cooperative sensing makes and PHY effects. Other advanced simulators such
the cognitive radios vulnerable to SSDF attacks as CORE and EMANE can be built by using real
[13], where attackers may flip their sensing results protocol stacks and generating real packet traffic
before they report them to the fusion center with that is carried among nodes represented by virtual
the objective of either blocking transmission initia- machines.
tives or causing transmission failures. Over-the-Air Wireless Testbed: Simulations
•PU Emulation Attack: The goal of the PU use simplistic physical layer modeling that ignores
emulation attack is to create an intentional false various hardware effects, for example, nonlinear-
positive for spectrum sensing by spoofing the role ity, filtering, and intermodulation by hardware.
of a PU and generating a waveform similar to that There have been several developments of cogni-
of the PU. tive radio or SDR testbeds (e.g., ORBIT in WIN-
•Protocol Violation Attack: Insider threat aris- LAB) [15]. These testbeds can represent static
es when users start manipulating the underlying scenarios that cannot be reliably controlled or
protocols and falsifying the information exchange. repeated and cannot emulate a representative
These attacks are typically low-signal and aim to geometry of a specific (e.g., mobile) scenario, as
degrade the performance slowly over time. often needed to test the refined adaptation nature
As a defense, cognitive radios can sense the of cognitive radio functionalities.
spectrum and hop to available channels by track- Emulation Tests: Network channel emulators
ing and adapting to malicious radio behavior [14] such as RFnest [4] fill this gap by providing a
(e.g., by assigning and maintaining trust (or rep- repeatable and controllable testbed environment
utation) for each user, monitoring their activities for cognitive radios communicating with each
and updating their trusts via consistency check other under dynamic RF propagation and mobility
with some type of feedback (e.g.,, RF signature or conditions that can be controlled and replayed.
protocol behavior). Combining Simulation and Emulation Tests:

IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017 17

EZPro EZPro Node i 4 Node i
Node i Radio

(715) 3 Receive


1 1 1

Packet Packet
(122) F (122) F
1 P 1 1 1 P 1
Spectrum Spectrum 3 1 2 4 Message Spectrum Spectrum 3 1 2 4
encapsulate to port 1 encapsulate
sensing database (157) sensing database (157)
(645) (647) converter (645) (647)
1 1 1 1
3 1 2 3 1 2
1 Port 1
1 to

Learning Routing 1 Learning Routing
Dynamic (735)) (742) 1 message Dynamic (735)) (742) 1
spectrum converter spectrum
access (161) access
1 1 1
(649) 1 (649) 1
1 1
1 1
Attack Attack
counter- 1 1 counter- 1 1
Phy Send Phy Send
measures message measures message
layer layer

(654) socket (654) socket
adaptation adaptation
1 (658) (723) 1 (658) (723)
1 1

Network protocols Network protocols

1 b d g 1
c e b c
Node i e
Network Network
configuration configuration RFnest
interface EMANE interface (network channel emulator)
(PHY/MAC) 4 3

a h a g
(topology, mobility, (topology, mobility,
channel, radio/platform) 2 channel, radio/platform)

(a) (b)

Figure 4. A systematic unifying approach to combine testing: a) simulation; b) emulation.

We present a systematic unifying approach, illus- multicast packet updates) to EMANE. According-
trated in Fig. 4, to combine simulations and emu- ly, EMANE reconfigures its parameters in near real
lation tests, where simulation and emulations tests time (e.g., less than 1 ms delay) to simulate the
are controlled under a common scenario by using wireless network environment.
the same SDR code. In this setup, step 1 is to g) While playing the mission scenario, each
generate the SDR code (as discussed previously); virtual node obtains feedback from the CORE/
step 2 is to generate and control the scenario; EMANE environment. This information is brought
step 3 is to set up the interactions among cogni- to higher network layers.
tive network nodes (virtual CORE nodes in simula- h) Performance results measured for each vir-
tions and actual radios in emulations); and step 4 tual node are sent to the Scenario Generator with
is to set up the wireless environment (EMANE for a customized GUI to monitor performance (at
simulations and RFnest for emulations). either the network or node level).
The following steps are followed to simulate a To run a cognitive network solution on radios
cognitive network solution (Fig. 4a): in emulation tests, steps a and b are the same as
a) The EZPro Network Configuration Interface steps a and b in simulations, step g is the same as
imports the mission scenario from the Scenario step h in simulations, and the following additional
Generator (available in RFview software) that gen- steps are followed (Fig. 4b):
erates the topology, mobility, channel, platform, c) After this configuration stage, the Network
and radio properties. Configuration Interface ports network protocols
b) Using this network scenario, the Network to the radio.
Configuration Interface connects to CORE and d) The Scenario Generator sends channel con-
automatically generates the CORE scenario with ditions, mobility, and other information (through
virtual nodes where each node represents a spe- multicast packet updates) to RFnest to emulate
cific platform/radio. The Network Configuration the wireless network environment.
Interface provides an automated tool to configure e) Radio signals go through RFnest between
each CORE virtual node with standalone software radios, and RF channel conditions are adjusted.
provided by EZPro. f) While playing the mission scenario, each
c) Each node in the network is initialized by radio learns the RF environment (e.g., spectrum
EZPro with the traffic generator and network pro- sensing), and this information is brought to higher
tocol stack wrapped as a standalone software network layers.
executable. This software is identical to the one The network control GUI (Fig. 5a) imple-
that would be ported to an actual radio and is run mented within EZPro is used to set up the test-
on the CORE simulator. bed, which consists of RFnest, radios connected
d) After this configuration stage, the Scenario to the RFnest, and platforms attached to radios
Generator initiates the CORE simulator that runs (e.g., the control elements that host the radio
virtual nodes with EZPro-generated standalone software to control the radio). This GUI allows
software. the user to configure nodes (platforms) and
e) In CORE simulation, EMANE provides the radios as virtual or emulated (Fig. 5b), assign
PHY/MAC for different waveforms, and high- the SDR software with virtual nodes in CORE,
er-layer network protocols configure tunable or port it to radios.
knobs in waveforms available in EMANE. Default The network control GUI is hosted on the con-
EMANE parameters can be configured manually trol station. CORE is used as the network emu-
by the user before running the simulation or auto- lator, while EMANE provides the MAC and PHY
matically (according to higher layers) during the layers in the virtual tests. The same radio software
simulation. generated by the presented SDR programming
f) The Scenario Generator sends channel con- approach (or through other means such as GNU
ditions, mobility, and other information (through Radio) is used for both virtual and emulation tests.

18 IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017

The network control
GUI is hosted on the
control station. CORE
is used as the network
emulator, while EMANE
provides the MAC and
physical layers in the
virtual tests. The same
radio software gener-
ated by the presented
SDR programming
approach (or through
other means such as
(a) GNU Radio) is used for
both virtual and
emulation tests.



Figure 5. a) Loading network scenario elements into EZPro; b) platform and radio configuration; c) RFview
software to monitor performance.

Transmit power, frequency, signal bandwidth, (TDMA) are example MAC protocols supported
antenna pattern, and gain are some of the con- by EMANE software.
figuration parameters for the radios. The EMANE RFnest is used to emulate wireless channels.
model works at the packet level. Signal-to-inter- The antennas of the radios are removed, and the
ference-plus-noise ratio (SINR) vs. probability of radios are plugged into the RFnest with RF cables.
reception curves are used to determine wheth- RFnest digitally controls channel properties
er a packet is successfully received or not. IEEE between nodes. In this setup, radios do not dis-
802.11a/b/g and time-division multiple access tinguish whether signals are coming over the air

IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017 19

or through RF cables. RFnest can replay channel [5] GNU Radio;
The solution presented dio/wiki, accessed May 23, 2017.
(I&Q) data and support virtual nodes and interac- [6] REDHAWK;,
in this article provides tions with real radios. accessed May 23, 2017.
fast, reliable and cost-ef- RFview software is used to define the test sce- [7] LabView;,
narios (Fig. 5c) including topology, mobility, and accessed May 23, 2017.
fective prototyping of [8], accessed
channel effects. The number and position of the May 23, 2017.
context-aware system- radios are specified on the map. Mobility pattern [9]
atic design along with can be either provided in advance or updated 7000.htm, accessed July 3, 2017.
on the fly for each radio. The PHY layer param- [10], accessed July 3,
realistic and relevant 2017.
eters such as the transmit power and frequency [11] E. Axell et al., “Spectrum Sensing for Cognitive Radio: State-
experimentation as are specified for each radio before starting the of-the-Art and Recent Advances,” IEEE Signal Processing
tests. RFnest includes various path loss models. Mag., vol. 29, no. 3, May 2012, pp. 101–16.
essential means to The path loss model to be used during the tests [12] S. Soltani et al., “Distributed Cognitive Radio Network
Architecture, SDR Implementation and Emulation Testbed,”
achieve the perfor- is also selected using the RFview GUI. The user Proc. IEEE MILCOM, Tampa, FL, Oct. 26-28, 2015.
mance gains offered can create charts on the RFview GUI to monitor [13] Z. Lu, Y. E. Sagduyu, and J. Li, “Queuing the Trust: Secure
the network’s performance during runtime. The Backpressure Algorithm against Insider Threats in Wireless
by cognitive radios for packet exchanges between the radios can also be Networks,” Proc. IEEE INFOCOM, Kowloon, Hong Kong,
April 26–May 1, 2015.
network-centric mission visualized on the map during the tests. [14] Y. E. Sagduyu et al., “Regret Minimization-Based Robust
Game Theoretic Solution for Dynamic Spectrum Access,”
success. Field Tests Proc. IEEE CCNC, Las Vegas, NV, Jan. 9–12, 2016.
After the initial T&E of cognitive radio technolo- [15] Orbit testbed project,, accessed
May 23, 2017.
gies demonstrates the feasibility, the next step is
to conduct field tests with tactical radios in real- Biographies
istic and relevant environments before full-scale Yalin Sagduyu [SM] is the associate director of Network and
development and integration. The technology Security at Intelligent Automation, Inc. He received his Ph.D.
readiness level increases with each step of T&E, degree in electrical and computer engineering from the Uni-
and the goal at each step is to demonstrate the versity of Maryland, College Park. His research interests include
wireless networks, cognitive radio, and machine learning. He
improvement of spectrum efficiency and mission has chaired workshops at ACM MobiCom, IEEE CNS, and IEEE
success. The unified T&E environment for simu- ICNP, served as Track Chair at IEEE PIMRC 2014, and served on
lations and emulation tests aims to reduce the the Organizing Committee of IEEE GLOBECOM 2016.
time from protocol development to field test, and
Sohraab Soltani is lead scientist at Intelligent Automation, Inc.
increase the success of a field test by evaluating He received his Ph.D. degree in computer science from Michigan
various potential scenarios and identifying prob- State University. His research interests are in wireless communi-
lems before the field test. cations, tactical networks, radio programming, cognitive radio,
ad hoc and sensor networks, stochastic networking, and wireless
Conclusion system implementation. In this career, he has implemented a
broad set of wireless (PHY, MAC, network layer) technologies on
Cognitive radios provide a new communication various radio platforms and executed in-lab and field tests.
paradigm to increase spectrum efficiency. This
article addresses spectrum challenges for tactical Tugba Erpek is a senior research engineer at Intelligent Automa-
tion, Inc. She received her M.Sc. degree in electrical and com-
communications and presents a systematic and puter engineering from George Mason University in 2007. Her
unified SDR programming, test and evaluation research interests include wireless communications, cognitive
solution with the necessary components to enable radio, dynamic spectrum access, network protocols, and routing
cognitive radio solutions for tactical communi- algorithms. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. degree in electrical
engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
cations. This solution provides fast, reliable, and focusing on machine learning for communication systems.
cost-effective prototyping of context-aware sys-
tematic design along with realistic and relevant Yi Shi is a senior research scientist at Intelligent Automation, Inc.
experimentation as essential means to achieve the His research interests include algorithm design, optimization,
machine learning, communication networks, and social net-
performance gains offered by cognitive radios for works. He has been an Editor for IEEE Communications Surveys
network-centric mission success. & Tutorials, a TPC chair for IEEE and ACM workshops, and a
TPC member of many major IEEE and ACM conferences. He
References was a recipient of the IEEE INFOCOM 2008 Best Paper Award
[1] B. Fette, “Fourteen Years of Cognitive Radio Development,” and the IEEE INFOCOM 2011 Best Paper Award Runner-Up.
Proc. IEEE MILCOM, San Diego, CA, Nov. 18–20, 2013.
[2] J. Ahrenholz et al., “Core: A Real-Time Network Emulator,” JASON LI is a vice president and senior director at Intelligent
Proc. IEEE MILCOM, San Diego, CA, Nov. 16–19, 2008. Automation, Inc., where he has been working on research and
[3] Naval Research Laboratory, “Extendable Mobile Ad Hoc development programs in the area of networks and cyber secu-
Network Emulator (EMANE)”; rity. He received his Ph.D. degree in electrical and computer
work/emane/, accessed May 23, 2017. engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park. He
[4] J. Yackoski et al., “RF-NEST: Radio Frequency Network Emu- has led numerous R&D programs related to protocol develop-
lator Simulator Tool,” Proc. IEEE MILCOM, Baltimore, MD, ment for realistic and repeatable wireless networks test and eval-
Nov. 7–10, 2011, pp. 1882–87. uation, moving target defense, and cyber situational awareness.

20 IEEE Communications Magazine • October 2017