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Today’s Sophisticated Tactical Communications

Tactical Communications Programmes Update

Central to any military operation is the ability to communicate, particularly relevant in the contemporary operating environment where forward deployed units, including SOF, require a capability to reach back to command elements from significant distances.

Capabilities to reach back to HQ have traditionally relied upon Line of Sight (LOS) and Beyond LOS (BLOS) SATCOM, although emerging threats of ‘near peer’ adversaries have seen armed forces continue to develop contingency communications networks such as Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (MANET) solutions for example.

Furthermore, armed forces continue to drive forward with initiatives to reduce SWaP requirements for handheld, MANPACK, and vehicle-mounted radio systems, as well as demand for more multi-mission and modular solutions providing users with a wider capability beyond just transmission and reception of voice and data.


US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)

In the US, USSOCOM continues to pursue its SOF Tactical Communications (STC) programme, aimed at providing operators with a next generation capability for not only communications but wider C4ISTAR capabilities.

Originally initiated on 7 May 2014 as a requirement for a STC Handheld (HH) tactical radio system, USSOCOM has been seeking, “non-developmental items with SOF peculiar modifications,” according to the official solicitation.

On 29 September 2015, Harris won the contract to provide the STC HH system, although the contract remains on hold following a dispute made by competitor Thales. Neither Harris nor Thales were able to provide further information due to disclosure agreements with USSOCOM.

However, Harris explained to Mönch how its initially successful bid had resulted in a U$390million IDIQ contract with deliveries expected to take place over a five year period. According to a spokesperson from Harris, the requirement calls for a handheld radio system capable of operating in the, “harshest environments and able to meet rigorous requirements for small, lightweight, multiband, multifunction, multi-mission tactical radios. It can be upgraded easily and has built-in backward interoperability to communicate over legacy networks.”

According to USSOCOM, the STC HH effort is aimed at providing the SOF force elements, including US Navy SEALs, US Army Green Berets and Rangers, and USAF Special Operations units, with a, “family of small, lightweight, easily upgradeable, devices enabling SOF teams to communicate over a frequency range.”

Devices will be capable of featuring Harris’ own organic waveforms which include: The Adaptive Networking Wideband Waveform C (ANW2C); Soldier TDMA Networking Waveform (S-TNW); Mid-Tier TDMA Networking Waveform (M-TNW); Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW); and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW); as well as non-organic waveform options from other companies, dependent upon mission parameters at the time.

Harris’ option is likely to be based on its FALCON III AN/PRC-152 handheld radio, already widely in use with the international SOF community. Operating between 30-512MHz multibands, the radio also has a High Band option capable of extending frequency ranges out to 520MHz as well as 762-870MHz. Speaking to Mönch about USSOCOM’s modernisation in tactical communications, Christopher Aebli, VP for US DoD Tactical Communications at Harris, said: “We applaud USSOCOM for continuing to lean forward on tactical radio modernisation efforts that will bring advanced communications capabilities to the SOF operator. As the winner of the STC Handheld competition, Harris Corporation will leverage our innovative technology and best practices from that successful effort to the STC Next Generation Manpack competition. The man-pack radio will build upon and extend beyond the converged C4ISR capabilities brought forward in the handheld radio.”

According to Chris Young, Harris Communications Systems President, “the Harris STC handheld is a highly advanced, multiband radio capable of reaching virtually anyone, anywhere, regardless of waveform or device. It is a purpose-built radio with tremendous power and capability in a very small package.”

Concurrently, USSOCOM has begun the solicitation process for the next phase of the STC programme- the Next Generation Man-pack (NGMP)- with the publication of an RfI released on 10 June 2015. According to USSOCOM sources, the intent of this next phase is to also find non-developmental items capable of providing, “simultaneous capabilities in a single man-pack form factor.” Required capabilities include legacy single-channel narrow-band Type 1 encrypted LOS/BLOS communications; AES and Type 1 encrypted LOS wide-band MANET waveforms; and dissemination of Type 1 encrypted full motion video.

Describing how the NGMP will interface with an End User Device, USSOCOM sources explained how it would provide a capability for, “programming and control of the NGMP; viewing full motion video (FMV) in Standard and High Definition; integrating situational awareness/battle space awareness/common operating picture data received by the NGMP radio onto electronic map overlays; provide chatting/texting/white boarding via the STC radio; and IP [Internet Protocol] data exchange/interface with the NGMP.”

A preferred partner is expected to be selected by the end of 2016 with Harris and Thales also understood to be bidding for the contract. The winning solution will begin full rate production in FY2018, according to industry sources.

Harris’ solution, should it receive the go-ahead following the dispute, will be based on variants of its FALCON III family of tactical handheld radio systems which comprises the AN/PRC-117G and AN/PRC-158 radios.

Thales, in tandem with Rockwell Collins, is likely to offer up a variant of its FlexNet communications systems, comprising multi-band and multi-mission programmable, vehicle-mounted SDRs. Capable of providing MANET communications, the FlexNet solution is capable of supporting high data requirements across narrow and wide band channels with full IP architecture for network and application integration. Operating across 30-512MHz frequency ranges, the V/UHF vehicle-mount comprises a 50W SDR which can support Thales’ own PR4G and PR4G Fastnet waveforms with a MANET capability across 150 nodes and speeds up to 6mbps.


Providing the Capacity to Extend Communications Coverage

On 4 March, Singapore’s Armed Forces (SAF) became operational with its enhanced Army Battlefield Internet system through the integration of its first vehicle-mounted SDRs.

The solution, which comprises a single-channel FlexNet 1 variant of the radio system, was worked up in collaboration with Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency, Thales and Rockwell Collins. The 50W radio operates between the 30-512MHz frequency range with data rates of 64kbps in VHF configuration and 6mbps in UHF configuration.

Both STC HH and NGMP contracts will feature MANET capabilities with TrellisWare Technologies responsible for the integration of the Tactical Scalable MANET (TSM) waveform into both programme elements.

Speaking to Mönch, Director for Applications and Systems at TrellisWare, Matt Fallows, described how the waveform would allow operators to send and receive voice and data communications at a maximum speed of 8mbps, across a network of more than 200 nodes. This, he explained, would provide SOF force elements with the capacity to extend communications coverage to more than 5,000mi while minimising any reliance upon SATCOM and GPS-based technology in anticipation of the ‘Day Without Space’. “Tactical mobile networking systems are increasingly challenged by the expectation that communications should be available anywhere and that latency sensitive applications, such as real-time video, voice, and other emerging IP applications, should be available everywhere,” Fallows described to Mönch. “Traditional mobile networking solutions fall short if attempting to maintain connectivity in tougher environments and when providing seamless mobile networking. These systems struggle because they often require registration and tracking of the network connection topology; neighbour tables, routing tables and link state information. As USSOCOM fields its Next Generation handheld radios with TSM-X, we expect there to be a need for similar capability in other Commands within the DoD, as well as partner nations in confronting global threats. In addition to soldier communications, these networks will begin to truly enable connection with unmanned systems and other ISR network elements.”


The United Kingdom

Meanwhile, the UK’s MoD continues to press ahead with providing a next-generation tactical communications capability to the British Armed Forces. On 10 March, the MoD signed an upgrade contract worth £175million with General Dynamics UK for the delivery of 12,000 BOWMAN data terminals and upgrade of the overarching Battle Management System to BCIP 5.6 standards.

Work will see enhancements made to the programme’s Common Battlefield Application Toolset; system Infrastructure; and Platform Battlefield Information System Application, GDUK officials explained to Mönch. The news follows the BCP 5.5 configuration which first entered operational service in May 2013. An MoD statement reads: “This contract will replace the data terminals and update software across the Bowman system to ensure ease of use, more rapid and robust data services, and improved interoperability.”

Updated systems will be made available to the armed forces in 2018 and beyond, industry sources explained to Mönch.


News in the Tactical Communication World

A Western European country has awarded Elbit Systems approx. U$20 million for the supply of tactical mobile radios, from the new and advanced E-LynX SDR family. The contract will be performed over a three-year period, offering reliable voice, data and video services simultaneously, along with integrated blue force tracking capabilities, both in narrow and wide band waveforms.

RUAG provides tactical communication solutions for defence forces, having a wide experience in radio integration, mobility management, integrated voice and data communication and meshed robust communication topologies. IMFS is the tactical telecommunication system for voice and data of the Swiss Army. It provides high mobility, robustness through meshed topology, and information security.

A newer technology, RUAG ARANEA Communication Expert uses the latest IP technology to connect simple analogue devices with digital systems. RUAG’s easy solution allows soldiers to integrate and securely operate narrowband and broadband communications technologies (voice, data and video) in heterogeneous tactical networks, cutting costs of procurement, migration and operation, according to the company. 

As one of the most advanced, most scalable, and most efficient Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (MANET) radios in the world, Persistent Systems recently released the MPU5, which the company calls: “The world’s first Smart Radio.” The MPU5 thrives in complex RF environments, where its 3×3 MIMO technology uses reflections from obstructions to move data even faster. WAVE RELAY self forming/self healing MANET technology routes data around obstacles, maximising network performance and mobility. Ideally suited for body worn applications, the MPU5 is a Smart Radio that brings Voice, Video, Situational Awareness, and powerful Computing to the dismounted user at an optimised SWaP. Persistent Systems’ team of engineers designed the MPU5 to be an Android computer system. The MPU5’s onboard Android OS enables soldiers to install and run third party applications directly on the device. As a Smart Radio, the MPU5 is a network and mobile computing platform that works simply and easily. With a 1GHz Quad Core ARM Processor, 2GB of RAM, and 128GB of flash storage, the MPU5 is a powerful computing device. The MPU5’s radio system is built on 3×3 Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology, allowing for extended range and increased throughput in complex urban, subterranean, and maritime environments – both LOS and non line of sight (NLOS). The MPU5’s Intelligent Radio over IP (RoIP) Tether feature allows communication across separate organisations seamlessly. With one simple cable, the MPU5 tethers to existing Land Mobile Radio (LMR) system and makes it available as a talk group to MPU5’s on the network. The MPU5 furthermore enables the user to encode and stream live audio and video without the need for external hardware encoders by directly connecting HD and SD camera systems via 3G-SDI, HDMI, and Composite video inputs. The MPU5 encodes and streams H.264 feeds at resolutions ranging from 320×240 to Full HD 1080p30 and 720p60.


Satisfying the Demanding Needs of Today’s Sophisticated Tactical Communications Arena

Datron’s SPECTRE V radios offer secure communications in ruggedised form-factors, providing a sophisticated feature-set, and utilising a simplified user interface for ease of operator training. The HH2100V is a high performance, competitively priced, tactical handheld radio that features embedded ECCM, COMSEC, and GPS capabilities. It is designed to satisfy the demanding needs of today’s sophisticated tactical communications arena. The HH2100V meets MIL-STD-810 for reliable operation in harsh environments.

The PRC7700H SPECTRE H radio is an IP-addressable, digital HF software defined radio (SDR) that combines DSP-IF circuitry and powerful microprocessors in a robust MANPACK configuration that is also suitable for mobile, rack-mounting or desktop use. The PRC7700H is fully interoperable with Datron’s RT7700H HF transceiver, supporting the demands for voice and data communications.

Datron’s PRC2100V SPECTRE V is a high performance, competitively priced, tactical MANPACK radio that features embedded ECCM, COMSEC, and GPS capabilities. It is designed to satisfy the demanding needs of today’s sophisticated tactical communications arena and is available as either a 10W MANPACK or a 75W mobile or fixed station system.

Furthermore, the PRC1099A is a HF tactical MANPACK transceiver that provides 20W output power and covers the full 1.6 to 30 MHz frequency band with 10 Hz resolution. Rugged, lightweight and easy-to-use, it can be configured with numerous add-on accessories to create a wide variety of MANPACK, mobile, or base station systems. The PRC1099A is a completely sealed radio, MIL-STD-810 compliant and any of its 100 preset memory channels can be configured for maximum mission flexibility on the battlefield.

Datron’s HH2100V SPECTRE V high performance, competitively priced, tactical handheld radio features embedded ECCM, COMSEC, and GPS capabilities, and meets MIL-STD-810 for reliable operation in harsh environments.

The HH2100V addresses today’s most pressing battlefield needs by incorporating a full range of embedded features. Accurate position and time-of-day capability is afforded by the embedded GPS receiver. Full- or partial-band frequency hopping and digital encryption waveforms offer a high level of jamming resistance and security encryption.

As part of the complete line of SPECTRE V radio solutions, the HH2100V is fully interoperable in all encryption and hopping modes with the companion PRC2100V MANPACK radio. The HH2100V can be used in a network with the PRC2100V providing base station, vehicle, MANPACK, or retransmit capability.

The proliferation of SDRs continues to drive forward, providing armed forces with flexibility to adopt next-generation waveforms in line with emerging operating requirements. The introduction of dedicated MANET waveforms will also allow armed forces the ability to prepare for contingency operations should the “Day Without Space” finally become a reality.

Brian Kindamo


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