A combination of miniaturization and open-systems software architectures is aiding the Army in assembling the radios it needs to establish battlefield communication networks and bring data from orbiting satellites to dismounted soldiers.

Companies that hold or are maneuvering for Army radio contracts are designing ever-smaller radios that operate multiple communication waveforms drawn from the Defense Department information repository, Christopher Aebli, vice president for defense business at Harris [HRS], told Defense Daily at the AUSA symposium.

“With open architecture, you can look into the DoD information repository and there are all kinds of waveforms in there. … From an industry perspective, our challenge is to look out at the market and figure out where we want to put our IRAD. Once a system is fielded, it’s got not only the capability you invented, but it’s got everybody’s capability – everybody has access to a lot more. You have to decide what radio do you want to put it into and what do you want to put into it?”

By pulling legacy and emerging waveforms from the repository and porting them into radios designed with open software interfaces, manufacturers can sell new capability upgrades to existing Army radios, Aebli said. 

The Army already is purchasing radios for its vehicles and dismounted soldiers at various echelons. At the low end is Rifleman Radio, a single-channel handheld device that is fielded with individual soldiers and primarily operates the soldier radio waveform (SRW). Harris and Thales hold indefinite-delivery, indefinite quantity contracts to build the devices.

Aebli said the Army soon will be in the market for a similar-sized handheld radio that runs two waveforms. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) already has purchased dual-band radios that can send and receive more complex data than voice and position.

On Oct. 7 the Army placed an initial $10 million order for Harris Falcon III AN/VRC-118 Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radios (MNVR) after receiving a Milestone C decision and authorization for a limited rate production of the radios.

MNRV is necessary to connect ground forces with the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). Without it, the Army would be unable to get the volume of data it wants to transmit from WIN-T to the HMS manpack radios and on to other networked devices.

Through a series of field tests, the number of MRVR devices per brigade combat team (BCT) sufficient to distribute the battlefield network throughout shook out to be about 100. The recent $10 million contract will purchase several hundred radios to outfit a couple BCTs with the capability.

The Army has deemed the radio operationally effective and stated that it enhances solider effectiveness. The radios will be used to field the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the 82nd Airborne Division as part of Capability Set 17.

The Milestone C decision makes way for low-rate initial production of the radio, during which the Army plans to buy about 1,000.

Development and procurement of the HMS Manpack, a two-channel dual-waveform radio, is lagging behind the mid-tier maneuver radio by about a year. Three vendors – Harris, General Dynamics [GD] and Rockwell Collins [COL] – hold indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts to build the devices. The basic design recently passed qualification testing.

HMS Manpack is basically two PRC-117G radios that can run Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS), SRW, satellite communication and the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) (300 MHz to 3 GHz frequency range) SATCOM system.

From January to June, the Army will conduct customer field testing to ensure that all three vendors’ radios meet published requirements. When that testing is done, the Army will issue a delivery order for radios to outfit at least two BCTs.

When Harris anticipated a desire to bring MUOS to deployed soldiers, its software engineers pulled the waveform from the Defense Department’s information repository and ported it into the company’s PRC-177G radio, Aebli said. The combination was certified by the National Security Agency in August.

“The value proposition is you can buy a software upgrade to the radio you already own and all of a sudden you have a MUOS terminal,” Aebli said.

So far about 1,500 software licenses have been sold to the military, mostly for testing by the individual services, he said.

“All the services have bought some and they are starting to develop their training and their CONOPS and their testing,” Aebli said. “It’s going to be a big thing in the future because … the legacy SATCOM channel, the capacity, the access to channels is diminishing by the day. So DoD, particularly the Navy, is really pushing all the forces to get going with training and testing to make it happen sooner rather than later.”

The system is a collaborative effort among several contractors. Lockheed Martin [LMT] builds the MUOS satellites and has launched four into orbit so far. General Dynamics makes the ground-station controllers. Harris, while not on contract, is one of the first radio terminals to run the waveform.