Army develops pair of software-programmable radios for rotary wing aircraft
- By Defense Systems Staff
- Feb 07, 2013
As the Army continues to advance its new tactical radio strategy, it is building on lessons-learned from the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program to drive innovation in radios for service aircraft, the service said in a Feb. 4 news release.
Following the recent Defense Department decision to disband the Joint Program Executive Office for JTRS, and transfer its programs to the services, the Army is now responsible for two software-programmable radios with the technology to connect rotary wing aircraft with ground units, allowing the transmission of data, voice and video over the wireless, secure network.
Project Manager Airborne Maritime/Fixed Station, or PM AMF, assigned to the Army Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, known as PEO C3T, is overseeing the development of the Small Airborne Networking Radio (SANR) and the Small Airborne Link 16 Terminal (SALT).
SANR and SALT are two-channel radios that will meet the National Security Agency's certification for type one encryption. SALT is being developed for Apache aircraft while the SANR is designed for five aircraft platforms including the manned Apache, Chinook Black Hawk and Kiowa Warrior, as well as the unmanned Gray Eagle.
The SANR radio will use three waveforms with the goal of having two of the waveforms working simultaneously. This allows soldiers to exchange more information and communicate with additional platforms and elements of their brigade combat team.
Both the SALT and SANR use new networking technologies capable of connecting the tactical edge through terrestrial and aerial tier communications not reliant on satellite networks or fixed infrastructure, the Army said. In mountainous terrain, such as Afghanistan, line-of-sight communication is often unavailable.
"It's the same concept of being able to get the network out to the tactical edge of the battlefield," said Navy Capt. Nigel Nurse, project manager for AMF. "These networking radios do not require any satellite or satellite connectivity. The best way to think of them is sort of like cellular networks without the antenna infrastructure."
Part of the JTRS transition included designating PM AMF as a non-developmental item (NDI), program, directing it to meet requirements by identifying and integrating technically mature commercial off-the-shelf (COTS), hardware solutions -- driven by existing platform size, weight and power requirements, which are able to port waveforms housed in the Joint Tactical Networking Center Information Repository.
By using common waveforms, radio manufacturers that want to develop a system do not have to start from scratch and create their own waveform, ultimately driving down cost.
SALT will use Link 16 and Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW), while SANR will use SRW, Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System and a Mid-Tier Waveform that has not yet been determined.
Mid-Tier Waveforms were recently assessed at the Army's Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 13.1, where soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, used different versions in realistic operational scenarios. How the waveforms performed will help determine which Mid-Tier Waveform is eventually chosen for the SANR.
While PM AMF is charged with moving the two radio programs forward, it is also looking for ways to leverage existing radios to fill capability gaps for other air platforms.
Currently, there is no network radio for the Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle. However, the Army has used the NIEs to evaluate the use of the existing Small Form Fit Bravo (SFF B), from the Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit Program for small aircraft. Although primarily designed for use by lower-echelon soldiers during ground missions, the SFF B could also be positioned in Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles to host aero relays or act as another node in the sky.
The AMF program is now seeking the hardware solutions or radio "boxes" that will use the waveforms to deliver SALT and SANR capabilities, the service said. The technology builds on existing tactical communications capabilities that furnish airborne platforms with satellite connectivity and Global Positioning System for navigation and situational awareness information.
The Army will continue to work with industry on drafting formal requests for proposals in an effort to advance a full and open competition to procure the best industry solution to support the waveforms. In August 2012, PM AMF released a request for information to industry for the development of the SANR and officials are now meeting with the RFI respondents to discuss capability requirements. An RFI also was also released for SALT with the office currently assessing respondents' submissions.
RFPs for both the SALT and SANR are slated for release in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013 with Low Rate Initial Production expected as early as the third quarter of fiscal year 2014.