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Harris upbeat on plans to equip US Army special forces with new HF radios

Representatives from Harris have told MONch that the company expects to begin delivering examples of its AN/PRC-160 High Frequency (HF: three megahertz/MHz to 30MHz) transceiver to the United States Army’s Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) by 2020. The force is planning a replacement of its legacy AN/PRC-150 HF radios to this end.

The move reflects what is being dubbed in the military communications domain as an ‘HF Renaissance’ which is seeing a marked resurgence of interest in HF communications driven by three distinct, yet interrelated factors: These include the impressive long ranges provided by so-called ‘skywave’ HF which employ the ionosphere, a level of the atmosphere located between an altitude of between 60 kilometres (37 miles) to 1000km (620 miles) above the Earth’s surface. This atmospheric layer acts as a naturally-occurring satellite dish upon which transmissions can ‘bounce’ in order to skip from one point to another across intercontinental ranges. Such capabilities are important as they allow deployed forces to reduce their reliance on satellite communications which can be expensive, if leased through a commercial provider. Moreover, there are increasing concerns within the military communications community regarding the susceptibility of SATCOM to jamming and also the potential degradation of SATCOM coverage during operations as a result of spacecraft attrition through the use of anti-satellite surface-to-air missiles. Thirdly, compared to legacy HF systems, new transceivers entering the marketplace offer potentially wider bandwidth, giving the possibility to handle not only voice communications but longer written messages than were previously possible, and even small video files. In recent years, both the US government and NATO have widened the segment of the HF spectrum available to military operators to afford such improvements in bandwidth. The new Harris AN/PRC-160 HF radios which the company expects to furnish USSOCOM will provide a step-change in capability compared to the systems they will replace. It is expected that, once deployed, these radios will equip USSOCOM vehicles to allow a back-up communications function should SATCOM be unavailable.

Specifically, the AN/PRC-160 will cover a bandwidth of 1.5MHz to 60MHz, taking the radio into the low Very High Frequency band, according to Harris’ official literature. The AN/PRC-160V1 version of the radio will equip the US Army writ large, with the AN/PRC-160V2 variant designed for the USSOCOM. In terms of power output, the radio offers 20 watts of power in HF, and ten watts in VHF. The radio also meets the US Department of Defence’s MIL-STD-188-110C military standard concerning the HF carriage of data. Beyond the USSOCOM community, Harris foresees potential to supply this radio to the special forces community within NATO, particularly given the level of interoperability this radio will offer with the USSOCOM once it enters service with the force.

Thomas Withington

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