The Army’s costly quest for the perfect radio continues

SITREP: The army’s expensive search for the perfect radio. Click here for the transcript.

Decisions made by the Ministry of Defense for its “radio stations of the future” more than 20 years ago still affect the communications facilities that military services buy today. The Joint Tactical Radio System program may have ended, but it left behind a legacy from which the US military is now trying to escape – while still holding on to parts of the JTRS framework.

JTRS, as Ars reported in 2012, was DOD’s quest to build the perfect set of communication facilities based on software-defined radio (SDR) technology. SDR was in its infancy in the mid-1990s, but the JTRS Joint Programming Office (the organization that manages the DOD program) was convinced that early investment would pay off with cheaper hardware in the long run and government software (something like closed). open source, with a library available to all vendors), will prevent blocking with a limited set of artists.

CORBA style

JPEO JTRS does not exist, but its software still exists. The Joint tactical network center (JTNC) took over the management of the Software Communication Architecture, Application Framework and POSIX-based real-time operating system that powers all software-defined radio stations born from JTRS-downlink communication equipment, along with libraries for the various mission-specific “waveforms”, used by various radio stations. SCA provides a software interface for manipulating field programmable port arrays (FPGAs) in radio hardware to reconfigure how they work. Until recently, these interfaces required radio developers to use the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) to access them.

CORBA was introduced in the 1990s in response to the troubles of cross-platform development; DOD requires CORBA and C ++ to be used in radio development, as it requires code portability. It didn’t get it, in part because CORBA is complex and messy, especially since it was implemented in SCA. And even if the code was easily portable between radio stations (which is not the case), changing radio stations from one waveform requires more than a software update – in most cases, hardware shuffling is required.

In February, JTNC released SCA 4.1, a new iteration of SCA that eventually dropped CORBA. This may be good news for future SCA-based projects in terms of software development costs. And the military needs all the good news it can get in terms of communications.

Disaster alerts

The long-delayed Rifleman Radio and Manpack radio, both JTRS-born, are a product of the Army's manual Manpack and the Small Form-fit (HMS) radio program.
Zoom in / The long-delayed Rifleman Radio and Manpack radio, both JTRS-born, are a product of the Army’s manual Manpack and the Small Form-fit (HMS) radio program.

US Army

Last September, military officials announced they would press the brakes on the Warfighter-Tactical Communication System, the communications equipment that acts as the backbone of the army’s battlefield, after spending $ 6 billion on WIN-T development. That did not go well with Congress. But military officials are concerned that the system, which is largely based on 10 years of software, is not resilient enough to handle jamming or even hacking by a technologically advanced adversary.

Then there is The radio program of Handheld Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) of Army. These radios used in the field by infantry have been a headache for the military for most of the last decade. Years behind schedule and above budget, HMS radios were pushed out without full tests, using “low-speed” production, to be put into operation for three years before their contracts were even finally awarded.

The smallest of these, the Sagittarius portable radio, is thought to be the data link of the infantry to the wider army network. The 5W radio uses JTRS ‘Soldier Radio Waveform, a digital communication format that operates on UHF and L-frequencies. But SRW is only used by soldiers on the ground; to communicate back on the chain of command and with support aircraft, the shooter’s radio must be transmitted by a larger Manpack radio (such as in a size backpack) or by a vehicle-mounted radio. (Program for radios mounted on vehicles, Terrestrial mobile radio, crashed and burned in 2012) And on a good day, under ideal conditions, the Shooter Radio has a range of about 2 km. And even with Manpack as a router there were significant problems. Manpack Radio requested digital voice communications, especially when handing over helicopters and other close air support.

Both Rifleman Radio and Manpack Radio were identified as major problems during testing in 2014. But the military had already begun a “low-grade” (or higher price) acquisition of Rifleman and Manpack radios in 2012. while an assessment was underway. This “low rate” was ultimately not so low: more than 21,000 Rifleman radios were purchased before the full production contract was awarded in 2015 due to demand for radios for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The final contract for Rifleman radio stations, assigned to Thales and Harris, was for up to $ 3.9 billion to deliver another 193,276 radio stations. That amounts to about $ 20,000 per radio, including accessories and maintenance; in 2014 the military expected the Shooter Radio to cost about $ 5,600 per unit. Manpack radios were expected to cost about $ 72,000 in 2014; the real position for Manpacks in the 2017 budget was $ 114.9 million for 1,459 radio stations; that’s nearly $ 78,000 and doesn’t include support, accessories and services. This is not exactly the kind of cost savings you would expect from a standards-based product.

The army is still trying to fill the gaps left by the two radio stations. Last month, the military launched a $ 4 billion procurement program for Leader Radio, a two-channel SRW-based handheld radio, and the outdated SINCGARS signal used to communicate with aircraft. despite the protests that the military rules out cheaper and more efficient options based on other technologies.

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