The Marine Corps is seeking alternative sources of funding for its Software Reprogrammable Payload (SRP) software-defined radio, which the service sees as a game-changer in boosting communications capabilities and mission planning and execution.

The SRP is a single radio module that can communicate via Link-16, Tactical Targeting Networking Technology (TTNT), Adaptive Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2), Soldier Radio Waveform and whatever radio waveform comes along next, Maj. Sean Hoewing, digital interoperability requirements officer at Headquarters Marine Corps aviation department, said in a Jan. 27 interview at the Pentagon. Any aircraft equipped with SRP could talk to other Marine Corps aircraft and ground vehicles, as well as platforms from other services and from other countries.

The usefulness of pulling so many waveforms together into a single box is the communications relay system it sets up. Marines using tablets can plan a mission while en route to their target in an MV-22 Osprey, exit the aircraft, conduct their mission and get picked up by the Osprey at a new location, and all the while they would be connected to this communication network. The Marines would have access to real-time information during all stages of planning and execution, and that information could come from all over the planet via satellite or radio communications.

Hoewing said the idea of a software-based radio is not new, but the Marine Corps is designing one much smaller and more operationalized than what the Air Force pursued, for example. SRP also works with multiple waveforms simultaneously, making this particular radio appealing outside the Marine Corps–the Army and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation are in talks with the Marine Corps about providing some funding for the program.

Hoewing said the plan is to test the system in Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One in California in late calendar year 2015 and field the system on the MV-22 Osprey fleet in 2016, but he added that, more than being a technological challenge, “it’s actually more dependent, at this point, on funding.”

Funding cuts from sequestration are “detrimental to the program, but we’re searching for funding in other areas because a software-defined radio that’s capable of stuff like that certainly is applicable and appealing to a lot of different folks,” he said. “So we’re going after money from a lot of different locations–the long pole in the tent actually becomes the computer engineer doing the software writing for the waveform to move it on to the radio.”

As computer programmers work to make the various waveforms compatible with the radio–Hoewing likened the effort to ensuring that software is compatible with both a Mac and a PC–another team of engineers is working on the next spiral of the radio hardware. Spiral 1 was already demonstrated on the RQ-21 small tactical unmanned aerial vehicle, and future spirals will be smaller and lighter to accommodate additional platforms. The Marine Corps’ plan is to first take the radios off all MV-22s and eventually the CH-53Ks and replace them with SRPs. Later rounds of fielding would include the RQ-21, the AV-8B Harrier and potentially H-1 helicopters if the size and weight of the radio can be reduced.

Even as teams of engineers work on the hardware and software, Hoewing said it was important that industry begins working on applications for Marines’ tablets, which is what makes SRP such a game-changer.

Hoewing noted Harris Corp.’s [HRS] moving map–“I make a box around the target on my tablet, and it starts to populate on your tablet and your tablet and his tablet in the back of somebody else’s V-22–that’s when [SRP] becomes an actual, useful thing.”

Full-motion video, photos and other data could be brought in and added to the map as it becomes available throughout a mission, allowing everyone involved in the mission to have better situational awareness.

Another potential use for SRP is to allow mission planners and intelligence officers in one location to tap into sensors on a plane to gain information. For example, Hoewing said, some of the Marines’ aircraft are equipped with the Directional Infrared Countermeasures system, with seven different IR cameras to look out for threats on the ground as a plane flies overhead. The pilot and crew wouldn’t care what is taking place on the ground as long as there is no immediate threat the system detects–but others in the Marine Corps might care a great deal about ground conditions in that region.

“You can reach out and touch my sensors that were never really designed to be intelligence-based sensors, but because I just happen to be in that area and now I have a network that enables you to do that with big pipes to move full-motion video around or take snapshots, you can start to enable people to do that,” Hoewing said. “The idea that you could tie two or three things together and get a secondary, tertiary capability, saves the taxpayers billions of dollars in integration or fielding a new component to do something. Everything is a flying node or a sensor out there.”