New Zealand Overhauls Tactical Communications

Harris $27 Million Contract Addresses Network Enabled Army Programme

New Zealand’s Army is conducting a major overhaul of its tactical communications. In February it announced the award of a $27million contract to Harris’ Australian subsidiary for radios to be delivered under the Mobile Tactical Command System (MTCS) element of the Network Enabled Army (NEA) programme.

The first of several tranches for NEA encompasses the delivery of Harris radios and new command and control (C2) capabilities to both the army and special forces. The second tranche will focus on enhancing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets. NEA as a whole is scheduled for completion by 2026.

Tranche One calls for a tactical bearer network, to include satellite communications (satcom) and a high capacity data network. Some of the Tranche One capabilities have already been delivered, including a Systematic SitaWare Battle Management System (BMS) and Cubic’s 2.4m satellite antennas. These will allow the army to enjoy access to the US/Australian Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) constellation, which uses the X-band and Ka-band wavebands. In May 2013, Gigasat signed a contract with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide the army its FA-240 and FA-370 X- and Ka-band satcom terminals. The WGS forms the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) strategic bearer network.

February’s contract is not the first time the army has bought Harris tactical radios. In February 2001, the firm won a $27.6 million (at 2019 values) contract FALCON-II series radios, including the RF-5800S HF/VHF manpack radios and AN/PRC-117F VHF/UHF manpack transceivers. Harris told MON that it will deliver “a broad range of tactical products to the New Zealand Defence Force.” These will include its RF-7850S secure personal radio, equipped with the firm’s Soldier Time Division Multiple Access Networking Waveform (STNW), using a 225MHz-2.5GHz waveband. This radio has two wideband modes covering 1.2 and 5MHz respectively and a single narrowband mode of 25KHz, with all modes having 25KHz channel spacing. The radio can carry both narrowband and wideband STNW waveforms, the latter able to handle data rates of 1.5Mbps. These radios will be delivered to team and section levels.

The RF-7850S will be complemented by the Harris AN/PRC-163 multi-channel handheld radio, to be delivered to section, platoon and company levels, also under the MTCS Tranche One initiative. This transceiver covers the 30MHz-2.6GHz waveband across two channels: one in two VHF wavebands, 30-88 and 118-174MHz plus a single UHF band at 225-512MHz and numerous UHF satcom bands from 300MHz-2.6GHz); the second handling UHF traffic in the 225-400MHz waveband and L-band/S-band satcom traffic across 1.3-2.6GHz. Waveforms carried by the AN/PRC-163 include frequency modulated/frequency shift keying, amplitude modulated/ amplitude shift keying, Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System(SINCGARS) for ground-to-ground and ground-to-air communications, HAVEQUICK (ground-to-air) and APCO-25, the latter in use by civilian first responders. The radio thus provides a useful interagency gateway when the military are engaged in the wake of natural disasters, for instance. Wideband waveforms can be carried in the form of Harris’ proprietary Advanced Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2), the Soldier Radio Waveform, and TrellisWare’s TSM. All three of these are in service, or entering service, with the US Army and Marine Corps.

Joining these will be the AN/PRC-158 multi-channel manpack radio. Covering a waveband of 30MHz-2.5GHz, this offers one narrowband VHF and two wideband UHF channels, plus an L-band channel (762MHz-2.5GHz) and a selection of satcom frequencies. Available waveforms include SINCGARS, HAVEQUICK-I/II, Second-Generation Anti-Jam Tactical UHF Radio for NATO (SATURN) and APCO-25, with the addition of SRW and ANW2 in the wideband domain. The company told MON that the AN/PRC-158 will be used from the company up to headquarters levels in both mounted and dismounted applications. Initial efforts will focus on rolling out the AN/PRC-163 and -158 to company level and upwards, though Harris stressed that, by the end of Tranche One, deliveries will have been completed to all echelons. The army will also acquire HF transceivers in the form of the company’s AN/PRC-160. This will be used for both groundwave and skywave communications, the latter facilitating over-the-horizon communications between widely dispersed troops and headquarters. The AN/PRC-160 covers a waveband of 1.5-59.9MHz and will also be deployed from company to headquarters levels.

Harris expects to conduct some customisation of these transceivers to allow them to use the SitaWare BMS when integrated into current and future NZDF vehicles. These new radios will provide important enhancements to the army’s communications capabilities and will work hand-in-hand with improvements that the NEA will also deliver as a result of investment in new ISR capabilities. Recent years have seen the army deploying to a variety of theatres, including Afghanistan, East Timor, Iraq and the Solomon Islands. The technological investments it is making will almost certainly pay dividends during future deployments. Harris added that it expects to complete deliveries of all these radios by the end of 2020.

Dr Thomas Withington

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