The golden age of wireless.

Author:Withington, Tom
 
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The global tactical radio market seems to be in good health, despite slowdowns in defence spending, particularly in Europe and the United States. New products are entering the domain, while several important programmes are moving steadily forward.

In early-July 2013 the Strategy Analytics consultancy company based in the United States predicted good news for the global military tactical communications market. Its Ground Communications Systems and Components Forecast 2012-2022 predicted that the market will grow at a rate of 7.2 percent annually, reaching up to $4.5 billion by the end of the forecast period. The report added that handheld transceivers will constitute the bulk of the market, encompassing 49 percent of the market value, and 94 percent of shipments. This is perhaps unsurprising given that armies will tend to always have far more handheld sets in their possession and on order, compared to vehicular or fixed-site transceivers. In addition, although single-band radios will still be in demand, the analysis predicts that the demand for multiband radios, i.e. which can cover the 3-30 Megahertz (Mhz) High Frequency (HF), 30-300Mhz Very High Frequency (VHF) and 300-3000Mhz Ultra High Frequency (UHF) sections of the spectrum will increase. Despite the squeeze on defence spending being witnessed in the United States at present, the country is still predicted to be the biggest spender on tactical radio products despite the extensive reorganization of the erstwhile Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) initiative.

* JTRS

Indeed, undoubtedly one of the biggest upsets in the tactical radios world over the past twelve months has been the extensive restructuring of the United States' Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). The rationale behind the JTRS programme was to replace a host of disparate radios in use across the country's armed forces with a family of software-defined radios (SDRs) which would use a set of waveforms to perform their specific functions, as opposed to having a large, diverse range of radios across platforms and personnel which would not neatly intermesh with one another.

The JTRS was to be developed under the auspices of its own Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO) which had been established in 2005 to manage to the various elements of the JTRS programme. These included the now-defunct Ground Mobile Radio (GMR), the Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS), the Airborne, Maritime and Fixed Station (AMF) radios, the Multifunction Information Distribution System (MIDS) and the Network Enterprise Domain (NED).

As discussed below, the Ground Mobile Radio has now been replaced by the Multitier Networking Vehicular Radio (MNVR), although the HMS initiative has survived. In addition, the AMF and MIDS work strands have also avoided the axe, although it is of note that these respective programmes have now been transferred to the auspices of the services. For example, the HMS and AMF projects are now under the supervision of the US Army, along with the MNVR programme, with the MIDS work falling under the purview of the US Navy. The NED work strand, meanwhile, has been renamed as the Joint Tactical Network (JTN) programme and is now under the responsibility of the newly-established Joint Tactical Networking Centre (JTNC), which is responsible for ensuring that the waveforms and technology developed as a consequence of the JTRS programme, and which are continuing development, can interoperate with one another as per the original spirit of the programme. The JTNC is also tasked with developing the waveforms that the future communications systems being procured will use. In essence, while the formal JTRS programme may now be dead and buried a significant quantity of the programme's original scope lives on.

For the US Army, even with the restructuring of the JTRS programme, the procurement of its future communications remains a major undertaking. Up to 120,000 handheld radios, which fall under the auspices of the HMS undertaking have still to be procured. This will occur under the full-rate production phase of the Rifleman Radio project (see below). In addition the service has to acquire 68,000 manpack transceivers and up to 2,000 vehicular systems as part of the MNVR scheme, not to mention the potential acquisition of up to 7,000 networking radios for airborne forces. All in all, this could generate a bill of up to $750 million.

Concerning the Rifleman Radio, so far, two low-rate initial production projects have seen 19,327 Thales/General Dynamics AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radios being ordered as part of the original HMS element. A similar LRIP has seen General Dynamics and Rockwell Collins tapped for 3,726 AN/PRC-155 manpacks. The Rifleman radio has survived the demise of the US armed forces JTRS initiative, along with several other facets of that programme discussed in this article. Although thousands of AN/PRC-154 sets are currently being procured, the US Army is re-opening the Rifleman procurement. This will see a number of companies lining up to provide the army with new radios as the Rifleman programme moves towards full rate production. Contenders include Harris, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and ITT Exelis, in addition to Thales and General Dynamics. Contracts for the Rifleman full rate production and the full rate production for the manpack radios are expected to be awarded in 2014.

To truly comprehend the JTRS programme, one needs to understand a little about the system it will replace, namely the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (Sincgars), and the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW).

The Sincgars is not a specific brand of transceiver but instead refers to a range of radios in use with the United States armed forces, and with a number of Allied nations which are configured to use the Sincgars protocol. The use of this protocol enables interoperability between Sincgars-equipped nations. The Sincgars effectively provides the basis to the philosophy which underpinned the JTRS programme. Sincgars radios handle voice and data communications across 25khz channels in the VHF range. These radios are available in vehicular, rnanpack, airborne and handheld configurations and can perform both single-frequency and frequency-hopping transmissions, the latter being performed at 111 hops-per-second. Both ITT Exelis and General Dynamics were, and remain, heavily involved in the Sincgars programme. In fact, ITT Exelis (or 'ITT' as the company was then known), won the contract in November 1983 for the first Sincgars radio to equip ground troops, with General Dynamics being awarded a further ground radio contract in July 1988. The new radios which will be procured via the erstwhile JTRS programme will support the Sincgars waveform. This is crucial as it will enable soldiers using these legacy systems to communicate with their counterparts equipped with the new systems. It will also allow those US allies equipped with Sincgars radios to do the same thing. Therefore, although Sincgars was originally designed to replace the Vietnam-era radios used by the Americans there, it remains a very important tactical radio system. In fact, the United States is expected to retain the Sincgars in use until circa 2030 as it introduces its new replacement radios. This underlines just how important interoperability is between the ex-JTRS and Sincgars domains.

While the Sincgars provided a quantum leap in connectivity and security on the battlefield, it was primarily designed as a voice radio. During the Cold War when the main threat to Nato was the spectre of Red Army troops dashing through the Fulda Gap and Hof Corridor this was not deemed a problem. However the so-called 'Revolution in Military Affairs' theory on the supremacy of technological power on the battlefield-which evolved in the 1970s and 1980s, but which had gained prominence in the 1990s and the post-Cold War era-served to increasingly heighten the importance of the distribution of data and imagery on the battlefield. The Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW), developed as part of the JTRS programme, is a reflection of this phenomenon. In essence, the SRW provides mobile ad hoc data and voice communications in the hands of the individual soldier.

The challenge behind its development was to provide a secure and high bandwidth means of communication which could survive the rigours of the battlefield, and most importantly attempts to disrupt communications, and still function. This had to be achieved using low power, small and lightweight radios. It is a rule of thumb in communications that much can be achieved with huge amounts of power and lots of circuitry. As the civilian mobile phone world has illustrated, slimming down from a 1980s brick-sized mobile into a trim smartphone can be quite a challenge, and quite a cost. The SRW is being rolled out across the US armed forces in a series of software increments, which allows the new SRW standards to be easily ported into radios as and when they are developed, in a similar fashion to a software upgrade for a civilian cellphone.

For all intents and purposes, the SRW 'links upwards' to the Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW). Whereas the SRW has spectrum allotments of 1.2Mhz to move its voice, imagery and data traffic, the WNW supports similar allotments, but can also support allotments of three or five megahertz, and even 30 megahertz when available. This translates into a higher throughput of traffic. Whereas individual soldiers are the primary users of the SRW, the WNW is designed to provide a communications backbone knitting together ground and air platforms. Because such platforms tend to have more power and more space, this can translate into higher quantities of voice, data and imagery traffic which their radios can handle.

* BAE SYSTEMS

This British-based defence company, which has a major presence in North America, is heavily involved an important element of the...

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