New Army lab will speed up radio testing

Testing process selects commercial, military systems for rapid acquisition

The Defense Department and the Army have high hopes for a new laboratory designed to speed the testing and deployment of military radios and related command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment and software.

The mission of the Radio Evaluation and Analysis Lab (REAL), located at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, and managed by the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), is to help the service and the DOD make smarter decisions when selecting commercial and government radios and equipment. The lab is part of the Army’s Agile process, which seeks to speed and streamline the acquisition of C4ISR equipment, Scott Newman, chief of CERDEC’s systems engineering analysis branch, said at a June 8 media briefing.

Under the Agile process, the laboratory sends out regular requests for white papers to meet needs identified by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Selected systems are then brought into REAL to be evaluated for their overall technical maturity, network performance, scalability, application performance and ability to integrate with existing DOD networks and equipment. Systems passing this test will go on to full field tests at the Army’s bi-annual Network Integration Exercises  (NIE) at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Successful technologies then go through a final review before being assigned to a program of record.

The goal of REAL and the Agile program is to test and acquire radios within months to a year, as opposed to the multiple years it currently takes, Newman said.

To facilitate realistic testing, the heart of REAL is the radio frequency attenuation network, a system designed to simulate realistic field conditions for multiple radios. The radio’s antenna feeds are plugged into the matrix, which can emulate movement and loss of signal due to buildings, terrain and foliage. The laboratory has two matrices capable of testing 40 radios. A third matrix is being acquired that will allow the lab to simultaneously test up to 60 radios.

In addition to radios, the matrix can test the underlying network aspects for network operations, network management systems and information assurance capabilities. The matrix can also simulate operational traffic, run recordings of actual captured network traffic from real exercises, and test cellular networks. The laboratory also has routers to run C4ISR applications such as the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system and Command Post of the Future on the network.

The laboratory has already helped evaluate Harris AN/PRC-117G wideband tactical radios running the latest version of the Advanced Ad Hoc Networking Wideband Waveform for use in the current NIE. The old version of the waveform supported 10 to 15 nodes, but the new version handles up to 30 nodes. The laboratory worked with Harris to test and debug the new waveforms before their deployment to Fort Bliss, Newman said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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