A Proactive Approach To Enhancing Multilateral Communications
Bittium has told MON that it expects to deliver the first of its TOUGH SDR handheld and vehicular tactical radios equipped with the ESSOR (European Secure Software Defined Radio) waveform to the Finnish Defence Forces by the end of this year.
The news follows an announcement earlier this month that the company had received a purchase order from the Finnish military to add the ESSOR waveform to these radios. The TOUGH SDR Handheld covers a waveband of 30MHz-2.5GHz and carries the Bittium Narrowband Waveform (BNW), ESSOR and TAC WIN waveforms. The same waveforms are carried by the TOUGH SDR Vehicular two-channel radio, which covers the same waveband. The BNW can support networks of up to 25 nodes and is typically used for voice communications for mounted and dismounted troops. The TAC WIN waveform, however, offers higher data rates and uses a tactical Internet Protocol (IP) network. Capable of hosting up to 1,000 nodes on a single network, the TAC WIN waveform is ideal for theatre/operational-sized deployments with flexible bandwidths from 5/10-20MHz. As well as offering high data rates, it can work in a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)-denied environment, a particularly useful attribute when jamming is being conducted across the 1.5-1.6GHz waveband which such services routinely use.
The ESSOR HDR waveform will supplement the high data rate capabilities of its TAC WIN peer. The ESSOR programme is managed by Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’Armement/Joint Armament Cooperation Organisation (OCCAR), charged with managing pan-European defence programmes. It is developing an HDR waveform to equip a diverse fleet of tactical radios used across the armies of the participating nations, which to date comprise Finland, France, Italy, Poland and Spain. At the corporate level, it involves Bittium, Thales, Leonardo, Radmor and Indra respectively. These companies are organised into the a4ESSOR (Alliance for ESSOR) consortium. The initial scope of the ESSOR undertaking, which began in 2009, was to develop the HDR waveform. A formal contract to this effect was signed by OCCAR and a4ESSOR in 2015. A second phase of the programme, entitled ESSOR Operational Capability-1 (OC1) commenced in November 2017, aimed at enhancing operational robustness and establishing a framework for managing the waveform’s lifecycle. This phase of the programme is expected to conclude by late 2020 and is worth $57 million.
Integral to the ESSOR initiative is a drive to enhance connectivity among, and beyond, these European partner nations. With this in mind, the ESSOR HDR waveform will equip several European transceivers in coming years. These will include the new Thales CONTACT tactical radios under development for the French armed forces. These will start equipping the French army early next decade. Likewise, the Leonardo SWave tactical radio family being rolled out across the Italian army will feature ESSOR. The waveform is also expected to equip current and future tactical communications systems used by the Polish and Spanish armed forces, while sources close to the German Army told MON last year that Germany is likely to join the programme in the near future. Rohde and Schwarz is expected to play a leading role to this end.
So far, the consortium has completed interoperability tests with ESSOR HDR and a number of transceivers, demonstrating that the waveform can be used by disparate tactical radios. Since the contract signature in 2015, the consortium has worked with the participating nations to factor their emerging requirements into the waveform’s architecture. Key to this has been the ability for the waveform to exploit available local waveband and to function despite the prevailing electromagnetic environment. What this means in practice is the waveform’s ability to function in an environment saturated with unintentional or intentional electromagnetic interference.
A spokesperson for Bittium told MON that ESSOR HDR is to be ported into both the TOUGH SDR Handheld and TOUGH SDR vehicular radios, which are equipping the Finnish defence forces. Crucially, the waveform will enhance the forces’ ability to participate in coalition and multinational initiatives. While the TAC WIN waveform can also be used for high data rate communications, the ESSOR HDR “will facilitate communications in coalition operations where different national forces are using the waveform,” the spokesperson explained. Although Finland is not a member of NATO, it does participate in the alliance’s Partnership for Peace initiative. Moreover, the country has contributed forces to support the European Union’s battlegroups, underscoring the need for communications which can provide multinational connectivity. At present Finland’s Nordic neighbours, Norway and Sweden, remain outside the ESSOR initiative. A threat to any of these three nations from Russia will almost certainly involve a pan-Nordic response, given that the conflict would most likely spill over into neighbouring countries. It will be interesting to see whether Norway or Sweden follow Finland’s example in the near future of joining the ESSOR project, with a view to enhancing interoperability across the Nordic nations.
Currently, the ESSOR HDR waveform is equipping the first batch of TOUGH SDR radios ordered by the Finnish military. In December 2018, the Finnish Defence Forces Logistical Command concluded a purchase agreement for their procurement, following signature of a letter of intent they had drafted themselves. This agreement included options for additional radios once this initial batch is delivered. Bittium commented that it expects to complete porting the ESSOR HDR into the initial batch by the end of this year. Should the customer then exercise its option for additional radios, then the porting of the waveform will continue for these new transceivers into 2021.
Dr Thomas Withington