Advanced radio key to on-the-move comms

Two-channel version will connect with unmanned aircraft to deliver WIN-T's air tier

Under the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) comms-on-the-move program, radios that lose line-of-sight communications automatically shift to satellite transmission. This is done so that soldiers driving through a mountain valley in Afghanistan, for example, doesn’t lose their radio connections. However, satellite communications is expensive, so the long-range plan for WIN-T includes an air tier that enables communications to bounce off an unmanned aircraft system circling overhead instead of a satellite orbiting in space.

That air tier, known as WIN-T Increment 3, took a major step forward this summer when prime contractor General Dynamics C4 Systems received a contract to develop a line-of-sight communications payload for the Sky Warrior Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) UAS, a Predator follow-on now being developed by General Atomics. Once aboard the UAS, the WIN-T communications payload will use the Highband Networking Waveform (HNW) to serve as a radio repeater while the UAS is in flight.

The ER/MP UAS is an important part of Increment 3, but the key piece of technology is the Joint Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance (JC4ISR) radio being developed for WIN-T.

“When we talk about ER/MP and the WIN-T communications payload, there is an implied task in there that people tend to forget, and that is the JC4ISR radio, which is really the heart of Increment 3,” said WIN-T Project Manager Army Col. Chuck Hoppe.

The primary task in developing the JC4ISR radio is the ruggedization of certain Increment 2 technology, especially transmission subsystem components such as the terrestrial Highband Network Radio (HNR) manufactured by Harris, and the MPM-1000 Network Centric Waveform Satcom modem built by L-3 Linkabit.

“Harris uses commercial off-the-shelf cards in a box that looks like it is military, but it has not been built to specifications required to put it in the environments that we want for Increment 3,” Hoppe said. “On the satcom side, L-3 uses commercial boards. So we’re in the process of ruggedizing these elements, and in Increment 3, that all comes together in the JC4ISR radio, where all those components are built on a militarized radio.”

The radio itself is a consolidation of efforts by BAE Systems, L-3 Communications and Harris. There will be two versions, a two-channel and four-channel radio. The two-channel version will be integrated into the ER/MP UAS.

Once in place, the JC4ISR radio, antennas and waveform will significantly increase the capabilities of current radios. Aggregate throughput will increase almost three times, from 30 megabytes to 110 megabytes, Hoppe said. Range will increase from about 30 kilometers with the HNR and current generation of antennas to 120 kilometers.

Development of the JC4ISR radio and HNW waveform will also benefit Increment 2 — the establishment of the program’s initial on-the-move capability that has now gone into low-rate initial production (LRIP) — the program is working to bring some of the technology to the left of the time chart on the development scale; that is, to deliver the capability ahead of schedule.  

“As part of the Increment 2 LRIP, we’ve moved the transmission subsystem as far left as we can into the schedule for Increment 3,” Hoppe said. “It is going to have its own set of tests. The acquisition plan has been approved and funded so that we can start cutting the JC4ISR radio into Increment 2 fieldings toward the end of Increment 2. We’re trying to bring this technology left so we can get it into the field as a complete capability as fast as we can.”

As a result, Hoppe says that in the 2014-15 timeframe the program will be able to stop buying the Increment 2 radio and instead begin fielding the more capable Increment 3 JC4ISR radio.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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