Iowa Air National Guard charts path to scalable comms

The Iowa Air National Guard has chosen C4i’s Switchplus IP as its upgrade for its antiquated communications system for the 132nd Fighter Wing, based in Des Moines, Iowa.

The system, which was selected through a competitive bid in fall 2011, features redundant networking programmability and end-to-end voice over IP (VoIP). The system upgrade, which was completed earlier this year, has already been well-received by the unit, according to Technical Sgt. Bradley Kuennen, Iowa Air National Guard, the RF transmission system non-commissioned officer-in-charge.

Installation began in December 2011 and took only about two weeks to complete, according to Kuennen. “The users love it,” he said.

The previous communications system, in place for more than two decades and powered by old circuitry, was plagued by console and line card failures. You know your communications system is old when you can’t even find parts for it on eBay, Kuennen said. “It was no longer supported by the manufacturer,” he added.

The problem of aging, failing communications systems is common among similar units since the Air National Guard does not mass procure communications solutions for units, Kuennen said. “When we were looking, we contacted other units and they were in the same boat that we were,” he said.

The communications upgrade was crucial in the training of the pilots of the F-16 fleet, Kuennen said. In addition to supplying combat aircraft, one of the wing’s main missions is to train personnel for combat missions.

The compelling feature for the Guard unit as it considered the purchase was the Switchplus IP’s ability to relay encrypted and unencrypted radio traffic from same console, he said. The feature “is not something we purchased with this initial system, but it was still something that we wanted to be able to integrate later,” he said. They also wanted a redundant system that was touch-screen based and had the ability to record radio traffic.

The $225,000 buy outfitted the Guard unit with two servers, two switches, software and five personnel tasked with operations. “The quality seemed to be superior to the others that we looked at,” Kuennen said.

The Switchplus IP software is also capable of incorporating remote VoIP clients and consoles, as well as integrating telephony and remote monitoring services, according to C4i. “More consoles and radios can be added at any time with minimal configuration effort,” the company said in a statement. “Duplicate servers in Switchplus IP ensure that no single failure can bring the whole system down.”

The Iowa Air National Guard communications system is one of several projects the Reston, Va., company has supplied to the Air Force and airport customers in recent months, according to C4i. Those projects have included fixed site National Air Defense applications, deployable/tactical communications systems, and both fixed and mobile air traffic control tower solutions, it said.

About the Author

Kimberly Johnson is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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