The last year has seen significant activity in the tactical radio domain. New products have been unveiled, existing transceivers have been enhanced, and new waveforms are becoming available, while programmes such as the US Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) continue to advance.
Europe is thinking hard about the First World War following the commemorations which were held around the continent to mark the centenary of its outbreak on 28 July 1914. Alongside the epic loss of life suffered during the war's four long years, the conflict witnessed much new military technology; the advent of airpower and mechanised warfare being two examples. It was also the conflict in which electronic communications would be used for the first time on a large scale.
For the British Army, and the Empire and Commonwealth forces which would be deployed to fight Germany, radios mounted on trucks such as Marconi's 1.5 kilowatt system were supplied to the Signals Branch of the British Army's Royal Engineers. According to an article written by Captain AP Corcoran of the British Army was published in Popular Sciences Monthly in May 1917, this radio did sterling service until the British withdrawal from Mons in August/September 1914. Known as the 'Great Retreat', this saw the British Army, together the French Fifth Army being forced south from the city of Mons in Belgium, close to the French border, by a German advance south from Belgium to the banks of the River Marne, just north of Paris. The Great Retreat commenced on 24 August 1914 before the First Battle of the Marne, fought between 5 and 12 September 1914, ended the German advance.
One consequence of the Allied victory during this latter battle was that much of the momentum of the initial fighting came to a halt and the First World War began to assume its more familiar attritional face on the Western Front. As a consequence of operational change, Capt. Corcorans article continues that; "the end of the moving fighting and the beginning of trench monotony, (caused) the (Marconi radio set to lose) its value. Soon it was entirely supplanted by the systematic working of trench telephones, and for a while the wireless went almost completely out of use."
Yet the lack of reliability of the trench telephone system, depending as it did on wires, caused a rethink regarding radio communications, and within a matter of months after the Great Retreat, the British Army were issuing radios to each battalion, equipping them with two trench radios apiece, with a radio furnishing the brigade headquarters, a 0.5 kilowatt system equipping the divisional headquarters and a still-larger 1.5KW set furnishing the Army Headquarters. Thus, in the mud, blood and horror of trench warfare the tactical radio was born. Today, the tactical radio is as important to land forces as it was 100 years ago, and this article will discuss some of the recent events regarding tactical radio hardware and software plus ongoing, and anticipated, tactical radio programmes around the world.
Given that Europe was the birthplace of military tactical radio, it makes sense that Armada's tactical radio compendium should start its examination of developments in military communications by discussing recent pertinent events on this continent. Important initiatives are ongoing courtesy of European tactical radio suppliers and programmes. New waveforms for existing transceivers are entering the market and, as the discussion below illustrates, important tactical radio procurement programmes in France, Germany and the United Kingdom are at various stages of fruition.
The need for military communications to connect with civilian networks is increasingly important, as shown by the existence of the US APCO-25 waveform discussed below which connects military tactical radio users to radio networks used by emergency services first responders. In 2014 at the Eurosatory defence exhibition in Paris, Elektrobit (now Bittium) showcased its new Tactical LTE (Long-Term Evolution) fourth-generation wireless communications protocol gateway. This allows military communications to connect with smartphones and vice versa using the firm's EB Tactical Wireless Internet Protocol. Known as 'TAC WIN', this protocol is housed in a base station to which the Tactical LTE is connected. This ensemble allows high data rate battlefield IP (Internet Protocol) communications from brigade and platoon levels, allowing military users to connect with civilian smartphones using Bittium's H3 handset.
The H3 handset connects to the soldier's radio, enabling their communications to travel as VOIP (Voice Over IP) traffic to the TAC WIN base station. From there it travels into the Tactical LTE and onwards to the smartphone of the intended recipient. Those with smartphones can equip their device with a specific SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card and type a Personal Identification Number into their phone to enable communications with a military radio across the Tactical LTE and TACWIN base station.
The Maavoimat (Finnish Army) is receiving similar technology in the form of the TAC WIN router, plus four radio heads, to allow the system to connect externally with tactical radio networks, and the TAC WIN waveform which allow communications over the TAC WIN IP-enabled wireless network. Deliveries of the TAC WIN, and its accompanying equipment, commenced in 2021, Bittium told Armada, and are expected to conclude in 2020, the company added.
Just as Bittium is improving the ability of the military to network with cellular communications, other European tactical radio suppliers are enhancing the capabilities of their wares. During the 2015 International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) held in Abu Dhabi, the Czech Republic's DICOM launched its new RF40 Thoroughbred V/UHF (VHF/30-300 megahertz/ MHz, UHF/300MHz to three gigahertz/ GHz) handheld radio.
Using the company's WF40 waveform, this radio has a data throughput of 270 kilobits-per-second (kbps). RF40 users can also add a 'Mission Module' to the back of the transceiver which allows L- and S-band (one to two gigahertz, two to four gigahertz) communications. The addition of the Mission Module extends the radio's data rates to 40 megabits-per-second (mbps). A geolocation function is built into the radio which allows it to communicate with the Russian GLONAS and European Galileo global navigation satellite system. When teamed with DICOM's VA40 compact amplifier dock, the output of the RF40 can be increased to 50 Watts, allowing this handheld transceiver to be used as a vehicular radio.
DICOM told Armada that it expects the RF40 to be available for purchase as of mid-2016, but has not provided any details as to whether it has yet secured any customers for this radio. The production of the RF40 is in addition to the company's V/UHF RF20/RF23GPS (Global Positioning System) handheld and RF2050/2350GPS vehicular/fixed radios which DICOM continue to produce and export around the world for undisclosed customers. The RF20 and RF2050 radios have been in production since 2003, with the GPS-enabled RF23/RF250GPS entering production in 2013.
DICOM is not the only European supplier showcasing new tactical radios. Portuguese tactical communications specialists EID has been promoting its TWH-104 PRR (Personal Role Radio) at several defence exhibitions around the world over the past year. The TWH-104 forms part of the company's TWH-100 product family, although the new radio has a geolocation capability using GPS. Like other members of the TWH-100 family, the TWH-104 operates on the 2.4GHz ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) radio band. It can handle data communications at rates of up to 100kbps. The firm told the author that legacy TWH-100 PRRs can be upgraded to TWH-104 status via the integration of a new RF (Radio Frequency) board. Armada sources have stated that the TWH-104 may already be in service with the Exercito Portugues (Portuguese Army).
Much as EID is believed to have commenced delivery of the TWH-104 PRR to the Portuguese Army, Kongsberg is furnishing the militaries of Hungary and Norway with new transceivers. According to Eivind Lyngar, director of marketing and sales for defence communications within Kongsberg's defence and aerospace division, the firm is currently involved in the delivery of its MV600 and MH600 VHF radios to Hungary and Norway. With quantities of delivery "in their thousands," states Mr. Lyngar, the firm expects to supply both countries with these radios until orders are completed in 2018.
The MV600 and MH600 are both members of the firms Multi-Role Radio (MRR) family; with the MH600 designed as a VHF handheld transceiver and the MV600 VHF as a vehicular radio. These radios which also include AES-256 (Advanced Encryption Standard-256); a standard of encryption overseen by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Mr. Lyngar detailed other programmes involving the company such as the supply of TacLAN VHF radios to Switzerland, the United Kingdom (see below) and Finland (see above). The TacLAN family also possess AES-256 encryption and contain three radios; namely the WM600 UHF vehicular radio, the SR600 handheld and the UM600 which can use the same mounting bracket as that employed by the MRR (see above). The deliveries of TacLAN radios to these three countries are expected to continue until 2020, Mr. Lyngar adds.
Beyond the programmes involving the firm mentioned above, Kongsberg introduced a new product towards the end of 2014 in the form of its RL-542A Tactical Radio Link. Providing data rates of up to 100mbps the RL542A has completed "successful field trials in Norway, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific," Mr. Lyngar told Armada. He added that the first contracts for its procurement are expected by the end of 2015, although the company has not revealed the possible customers for this new product.
European tactical radio specialists are not only offering new...