Military, Industry Gung-Ho on Software Defined Radios

Military, industrial Gung-Ho on software-defined radios

AN / PRC-163 multi-channel handheld radio

Photo: Harris

The industry seeks to provide the US military with new communication technologies that are more cost-effective and offer expanded capabilities. Software-defined multi-channel radios are seen as the wave of the future as the armed forces try to anticipate emerging threats.

The network is one of the six priorities for the modernization of the army. The service has recently undertaken a comprehensive study of its communication architectures.

“One of the big ah-ha moments for us … [was the realization] that we missed the strategic change in the IT market that started happening – this idea of ​​software-defined radios, “said Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, chief information officer, Army G-6, at the MILCOM conference in October.

“It started to gather steam right under our noses … [but] we were busy waging two wars, “he added.

There are usually two types of military radio stations: hardware-oriented / specially designed projects and defined software.

“Most specially designed solutions are optimized for size, weight, power and performance, but are significantly more expensive and time consuming to design and manufacture,” said Paul Mehni, spokesman for the Army’s program command, control and communication tactics. in email.

In addition, they cannot be easily modified, as they will require redesign or overproduction to adopt new technologies, he noted.

On the other hand, software-defined radios can receive upgrades by changing the software load, allowing the radio to perform multiple waveforms or receive new ones. This will allow the military to acquire new radio technologies as they emerge, without having to buy additional equipment or launch a new program, he said.

The military is now committed to a software-specific strategy for acquiring radio, said Colonel Garth Winterl, project manager for tactical radio stations at PEO C3T.

“We acknowledge that there are advantages over custom-built, hardware-defined radio stations,” Winterle said in a written response to questions. “However, the military operates in a developing environment based on a threat that requires the ability to upgrade, limited by a hardware-defined solution. Software-defined radios allow for less complex waveform upgrades and do not require expensive hardware changes, as we include electronic warfare hardening and cybersecurity. “

Army officers also keep on two-channel radio stations. The service directed single-channel Sagittarius radio to infantry brigade combat teams until 2017. But soldiers called for a two-channel capability to eliminate the need to carry two radios, one for voice and one for data. One-channel efforts have already been postponed and there is no plan to reconsider the decision, Menny said.

Instead, the military is now pursuing a two-channel Leader system under the PEO C3T manual, Manpack and small form (HMS) radio program.

The new Leader is a manual, software-defined type 1 NSA-certified radio for encryption. It provides two-channel security voice and data through multiple waveforms, as well as connectivity to the Nett Warrior system, according to Winterle.

In September, the military awarded a competitive procurement order to two suppliers, Harris Corp. and Thales, which included initial orders to supply 1,540 Leader radios from each company. Harris offers his AN / PRC-163, and Thales offers his AN / PRC-148.

Two-channel radio is a big step for the military, said retired Major General Jeff Smith, Harris’s vice president of business development, about U.S. Army Command products and special operations.

“The handheld is traditionally a single-channel radio with a slightly limited range, but with the new technology, the software-defined technology, it’s a significant improvement in great capabilities.”

AN / PRC-163 allows cross-bands for more flexible communication, he noted.

“You can … make calls – both data and voice – on both channels, instead of limiting yourself to just one voice channel and one data channel,” Smith said. “It has technology that allows you to talk on these channels.”

The dual-channel feature also means troops need to carry less equipment, as they only need one radio to communicate with voice and data, he noted. “You actually have two radios in one case.”

Advanced waveforms offer the possibility of a mobile ad hoc network that allows seamless and simultaneous communication between many different users. The size, weight, power and small form factor are optimized for manual use, he added.

The feature-length video feature to improve awareness of the situation in the past would require too much energy, he said.

“Honestly, you could never get to a soldier on the battlefield because of the bandwidth needed,” Smith said. “But this particular radio has the ability to do that with a module.”

A key aspect of radio is that it allows upgrades to include advanced waveforms and other means to deal with growing threats of e-war, Smith said.

“Instead of having to change hardware with changes in threats or changes in technology, we can now do so with software syringes … similar to downloading and uploading software to your [cell] phone right now, ”he explained.

The military plans to procure Leader radios through competing annual supply orders. The contracts awarded have a fixed price, a 10-year unspecified delivery / unspecified quantity and are structured to maximize the flexibility of the Ministry of Defense.

“With each delivery, radio upgrades / enhancements can be ordered to support changes in communication design,” said Winterle. Based on market conditions, additional suppliers may be ‘included’ to compete during the supply contract if the government sees value in [company’s] ability. “

The total purchase could cost nearly $ 4 billion.

Another major software-specific radio initiative in progress is the Generation II Manpack, which can be carried in a backpack or mounted on a vehicle.

In April 2018, the Army awarded Harris low-order initial purchase orders for its AN / PRC-158 and Rockwell Collins – now known as Collins Aerospace – for AN / PRC-162. The total order will consist of 1,129 radio stations from each company.

The AN / PRC-158 covers a wide range of frequencies, from 30 to 2,500 megahertz, an improvement over older systems, Smith said. The car-mounted version offers more range.

In addition, Generation II Manpacks are lighter than Generation I. Hardware and battery life improvements – from six to eight hours – have reduced the mission’s 24-hour weight from 19.5 to 16 kilograms, according to Winterle.

Smith noted that the system’s broadband and narrowband waveforms will allow interoperability with legacy radios that have already been installed. The technology will be compatible with satellites for mobile fleet consumer systems as well as Leader radio.

Winterl said the Generation II Manpack provides two-channel secure voice and data communication through various forms of military and joint services. But it is capable of adopting other advanced network forms, he said.

“Until recently, the military focused on waveform integration on government- or government-targeted waveforms and radio services to provide communication capabilities,” Winterl said. “Moving forward, the military began to expand its capabilities to include advances in the industrial waveform.”

The service has adopted the TSM wave commercial form developed by TrellisWare Technologies Inc. to provide more secure data connectivity for both Generation II Manpack and Leader radios, he noted.

“The change in strategy allows for experiments [development and operations] with commercially available solutions to improve network survival, including simplification of network, cryptographic key and electromagnetic spectrum maintenance requirements, while informing solutions on how to maintain and upgrade durable waveforms ”such as SINCGARS, Link-16 and high frequencies, he added.

The program office plans additional LRIP purchase orders for the second generation Manpacks over the next two years. Approval for full-speed production will be given after the successful completion of the TSM waveform operational test, which is now scheduled for fiscal 2020, Winterle said.

Manpack’s PEO C3T initiatives – which include Generation I AN / PRC-155 radios developed by General Dynamics – are expected to cost up to $ 12.7 billion.
Smith said software radios were the wave of the future for the U.S. military.

“It’s really the only way to do that while you’re watching technology and how fast technology is changing, and especially when you’re looking at the threat and how often your threat is changing,” he said. “You need to be able to log in as we develop our own technology and upgrade quickly without having to change their radios.”

The US Special Operations Command is already buying AN / PRC-163, he noted. “We are considering all services,” he added.

Raytheon, meanwhile, has developed a new software-specific radio, known as the X-Net, designed to operate in challenging military communications environments.

The company demonstrated the technology at a demonstration in the Patuxent River, Maryland, in August. The event was hosted by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the small tactical office of the tactical drone program.

The company placed its system in an RQ-21A Blackjack reconnaissance, surveillance and reconnaissance drone flying in a dense signal environment.

“We exchanged two existing radio stations [that were responsible for flight control operations and video transmission] with one X-Net device and then we were able to demonstrate that with X-Net we can provide the functionality of these two radio stations, “said Barbara Borgonovi, vice president of integrated communications systems at Raytheon.

“It was a very successful demonstration.”

The advantage of software-defined radio technology is that it allows a radio to provide multiple capabilities, she said. For X-Net, it includes the ability to automatically select the best radio frequency for operations. “It can jump all the time, so that in environments where there can be a lot of congestion on one frequency, it can adapt to these situations,” she explained.

While drones are the main candidates for equipment with the device, it can be adapted to customer needs, said Borgonovi. For example, dismantled troops could potentially use the X-Net to remotely control an unmanned combat vehicle, she said.

“The potential is extremely wide … because it’s a very small form factor, it’s about the size of a hockey puck,” she said. “This means that in terms of size / weight, this is not restrictive to different applications. And because it’s software [defined], there are many … possibilities to consider. “

The main focus from now on will be to expand the system’s ability to operate in a contested signal environment, as the US military may encounter when fighting enemies with advanced electronic warfare capabilities.

This year, Raytheon will initially produce a low-percentage X-Net for a U.S. military customer that the Borgons declined to identify. “We’ve already secured a small contract for arms data activities, that’s all I could say.”

All Raytheon legacy radio stations already have or will soon have an updated software-defined radio version, the Borgonovs said. She expects that most of Raytheon’s future radio systems developed for the US military will also be software-defined. “All our clients are accommodated … [that] direction. ”

Topics: Battlefield Communications,, Department of Defense