Common sub radio room buzzes on the horizon

The Navy’s Common Submarine Radio Room (CSRR) appears to be moving full speed ahead. With interoperability tests completed for two classes of the fleet’s submarines and a third under way, the automated communications system has been designated as operationally ready for the submarine fleet.

Meanwhile, the technology could also find a home in the surface fleet. Elements of the system are being included in Lockheed Martin’s offering for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Airborne, Maritime and Fixed Station (AMF). In addition, the system is being prepared for a sea trial aboard the Littoral Combat Ship later this year.

The CSRR is designed to automate communications aboard subs while reducing errors and manning requirements. “The automation of the system allows the submarine force to support missions with significantly higher communications requirements without additional manning,” said Dan Brothers, assistant program manager for CSRR in the Submarine Integration Program Office.

“The commonality of the system across all submarine platform types results in lower cost to maintain technical documentation,” Brothers said. That also results in “more focused training that allows the operator’s experience to transfer to other submarine platforms, and a common parts support system that reduces costs by allowing larger procurements of spares and less inventory on the supply systems shelves.”

Brothers said the system provides many benefits compared with previous submarine external communications systems. Radio rooms on Navy subs have been staffed with three sailors on each shift, while CSRR requires only one operator.

Also, CSRR’s network-based architecture doesn’t limit the available bandwidth for transmissions to 64 kilobits/sec, as older systems do. And the architecture offers a management control workstation that allows a single operator to manage as many as 30 simultaneous circuits, compared with 5 to 10 circuits on older systems, Brothers said.

“There’s so much human error that can get introduced when you think about setting the radios at different frequencies and the need to change those circuits is pretty frequent,” said Wendy Underwood, director of communications and networking at Lockheed Martin Tactical Systems, the prime contractor for CSRR. “What used to take an hour and a half or more to cut over to a new mission plan can now be done with the click of a button and a drag and drop. It now happens significantly faster with significantly fewer errors so that warfighter effectiveness is increased.”

CSRR has successfully completed interoperability testing on the Navy’s Seawolf-class and Ohio-class — SSBN and SSGN variants — submarines. Currently, there are three Seawolf CSRR systems, two Ohio SSBN systems, and two Ohio SSGN systems that are operational. The first full Virginia-class CSRR baseline system started final testing in September.

CSRR is scheduled for an operational evaluation for the Virginia class this summer and a sea trial for the Littoral Combat Ship. Although a program of record doesn’t exist for the surface fleet, Underwood said there is just as strong a need for a common radio room in Navy surface ships as there is with submarines.

“Today, every new construction surface ship acquiring group in the Navy decides how they want to procure the radio rooms,” Underwood said. “They’re all making their own decisions, so guess what? They’re all unique. But the Navy is recognizing that with the success of CSRR, those same principles apply to the surface ships.”

“Based on the success of implementing the CSRR system in the submarine force and its cost and supportability advantages, the Navy’s Program Executive Office for C4I is working to implement a surface variant for new construction platforms and eventually for modernization of older platforms,” Brothers said.

However, he said that this effort is still in its early planning stages.

About the Author

Greg Slabodkin is a contributing editor to Defense Systems.

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