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Europe’s ESSOR waveform initiative heads towards implementation

Sources close to the pan-European ESSOR (European Secure Software Defined Radio) waveform initiative have told MONCh that the programme could yield additional products beyond the High Data Rate (HDR) waveform currently under development.

Speaking during the Eurosatory exhibition being held in Paris between 11 June and 15 June, the sources stated that the partner nations in the initiative (France, Finland, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden) have broadened their requirements for the ESSOR waveform since the signing of the original contract for its development in 2015. The ESSOR programme is being managed under the auspices of the OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’Armement/Joint Armament Cooperation Organisation) body which supervises collaborative European defence programmes. The rationale behind the ESSOR initiative is to define and develop an HDR waveform which can equip a disparate range of Software Defined Radios used across the armies of the partner nations, and also the armies of other countries which decide to join the initiative. At the heart of the ESSOR initiative is a desire to improve interoperability among, and beyond, these European partner nations. To this end, the ESSOR HDR waveform will be ported into a number of European SDR transceivers over the coming years including the Thales CONTACT tactical radios which are currently under development for the French armed forces which will start equipping the force early next decade, and the Leonardo SWave tactical radio family which is equipping the Italian Army. ESSOR is also at the heart of the Finnish Army’s tactical radio modernisation programme which is focused on Bittium’s TAC Handheld and TAC Vehicular radios which are expected to enter service with the force over the coming five years.

To date, the ESSOR consortium has completed interoperability tests with the ESSOR HDR waveform and a number of transceivers, demonstrating that this product can be ported into several different transceiver types, according to the ESSOR sources. Since the contract signature in 2015, the consortium has also worked with the participating nations to accommodate their emerging requirements for the ESSOR waveform in terms of functionality. These functionality improvements have included “better exploiting available wideband to support the waveform,” so as to ensure that ESSOR can continue to perform regardless of the prevailing electromagnetic environment being saturated with unintentional interference or deliberate jamming. Work to this effect commenced in January this year, and the ESSOR contract is expected to be completed by 2021.

The consortium is also considering the expansion of ESSOR’s scope beyond the development of an HDR with the possibility of developing a narrowband waveform in the future. Sources told MONCh that some of the techniques and technologies which have been pioneered for the HDR could, in turn, be ploughed into the narrowband waveform, although the go-ahead for this waveform’s development will be dependent on available funding and a firm requirement from the partner nations. Nevertheless, the trials and tribulations that NATO has experienced over the past decade in trying to develop a common standardisation agreement for a narrowband waveform may act as a driving factor in this regard. In the meantime, the ESSOR HDR is now entering service with Finland reportedly having used the waveform operationally, and France and Italy scheduled to port the waveform into their new tactical radios in the coming five to ten years. Although the specifics on how ESSOR is to be used operationally will be the preserve of the signallers and command supporting any operation, sources continued that in its current incarnation, ESSOR is envisaged for use by vehicles at the regimental and divisional levels; users which are expected to require high bandwidth communications to carry voice, data and imagery traffic. Nonetheless, NATO may help to further define the concept of operations for ESSOR writ large as the waveform enters service.

Away from the potential development of a narrowband waveform, the ESSOR consortium is considering the development of an airborne ESSOR waveform, although again this will be dependent on funding and political commitment. As the source told MONch, “we make the tools, and it is up to the armies to decide how they will use it.” Furthermore, there is the potential that Germany could join the ESSOR initiative; a nation which will almost certainly only deploy forces as part of a multinational initiative in the future. This operational reality makes ESSOR arguably an ideal fit for the German armed forces and, like their counterparts in Finland, France and Italy, the country is in the midst of a major tactical communications overhaul for its army. According to Lino Laganà, ESSOR’s president who was also speaking to MONch during Eurosatory, the “ESSOR club could widen, and Germany’s addition would be good from a military, industrial and European political perspective.”

Thomas Withington

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