The strategy behind DOD's realignment of tactical radios

The Defense Department decided last summer to disband the Joint Program Executive Office for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JPEO JTRS), transition oversight of its programs to the military services, and establish the Joint Tactical Networking Center (JTNC) to manage the waveforms. As a result, the Army Acquisition Executive transferred several components to the Army’s PEO for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (C3T), including: the JTNC; the Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) radios; the Airborne Maritime/Fixed Station (AMF) radio; and Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio (MNVR), which is the replacement for the cancelled Ground Mobile Radio program.

COL William “Russ” Wygal is project manager for Tactical Radios (TR) within Army PEO C3T who is responsible for managing those PEO C3T radio/waveform programs. Wygal became TR manager last summer and provided written responses to questions from Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg.

DS: What was the rationale behind moving the HMS radios and Joint Tactical Networking Center (JTNC) over to PEO C3T? How will these programs be managed any differently than they were under JPEO JTRS?

Wygal: The realignment comes at a transition point in the evolution of the JTRS programs and will allow the Army to drive industry innovation in hardware while leveraging years of government investment in software. The plan is to leverage the considerable technological progress achieved over the past decade of JTRS development and harness industry’s ability to develop, build and deliver cost-effective hardware solutions. These hardware configurations will be engineered to use low- and high-capacity waveforms to ensure fast, efficient and secure sharing of voice, video, data and imagery across the force.

This change also brings the Army’s entire portfolio of lower, tactical Internet communications systems under the same program management and into the same PEO that includes Project Manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, the Army’s satellite communications backbone for the upper tactical Internet. This relationship is yielding immediate operational benefits as we continue to field Capability Set (CS) 13, and will support further integration in the future.

As development continues on HMS, MNVR and AMF, we will be able to synchronize and ensure compatibility between commercial off-the-shelf, current force and legacy products managed by PM Tactical Radios’ product manager for Network Systems (NS). This alignment will facilitate hardware and software integration as the Army progresses from its CS 13 network architecture to its network architecture for CS 14 and beyond. We are also cross-training our field support representatives to support multiple radios worldwide, allowing the Army to reinvest resources that might otherwise been spent on duplicative support.

While there are many benefits to moving these programs to PEO C3T, their management as acquisition programs won’t change. It will be executed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., rather than in San Diego. We will continue to work with all of our partners in DOD—the testing community, National Security Agency, Army Test and Evaluation Command, Brigade Modernization Command, and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology and others to ensure we focus on developing and delivering our capabilities to the soldier.

DS: I can understand the reasoning behind moving radio hardware programs to PEO C3T, but why move JTNC? It's the waveform repository and development organization, which seems to cross all military services.

Wygal: As you know, this decision was made at a higher level, but in my view it makes a lot of sense. The majority of the systems using the waveforms–HMS, MNVR, AMF, AN/PRC-117Gs and several other products under NS–are part of PEO C3T. So having the software and hardware under the same umbrella will allow for better collaboration and integration as we continue to mature tactical-radio technologies.

While the Army is managing the JTNC, it is still very much a joint organization staffed by members of all the services, with the director being a Navy employee. The JTNC will ensure interoperability across the services by providing standardized waveforms and other networking applications that operate in a variety of program-of-record and commercial hardware transport solutions. It will allow the continued development of open standards that industry can build to, ensuring wide access to government-owned non-proprietary software so that the military can benefit from innovation and competitive pricing by industry.

It is important to recognize that just because JPEO JTRS no longer exists, the “jointness” hasn’t gone away. We still plan to field the Manpack to the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, and will continue to evolve hardware and software solutions capable of supporting joint operations.

DS: What are you looking for industry vendors to provide in the SRW Appliqué radio competition?

Wygal: The requirement for SRW Appliqué is a single-channel, vehicle-mounted radio running SRW (Soldier Radio Waveform) that can be installed into the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) Combat Net Radio vehicular mount. SRW Appliqué radios act as a conduit for voice and data between the dismounted soldier, his unit and higher headquarters.

The radios will connect the “foxhole” to the brigade tactical operations center (TOC), and interoperate with radio systems in the TOC that currently connect the brigade to WIN-T. SRW Appliqué will interact seamlessly with the Rifleman Radio, which is carried by platoon, squad and team-level soldiers.

The network integration evaluations confirmed the operational need for SRW Appliqué, and we look forward to continuing to evaluate vendor solutions that address this capability gap. We released the request for proposal for the SRW Appliqué contract in October 2012 and anticipate the first award in summer 2013.

DS: What benefits do you expect to realize by opening Rifleman and Manpack radios to full and open competition? Is it just cost savings?

Wygal: The Army fully supports direction by Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and is preparing for a full and open competition for the HMS Rifleman and Manpack. Through full and open competition, the full-rate production (FRP) phase of both programs will be open to all industry partners. The FRP competition will include technical and field tests of the competing technologies.

The full and open competition is not just about cost savings, but also about continuing to push technology forward. Technical advances in the commercial software-programmable radio market that took place during the JTRS developmental effort now allow for effective hardware solutions – radio “boxes” – to be developed more easily. Through the [Network Integration Evaluation], the Army also has recognized the maturation of emerging industry capabilities to potentially meet HMS requirements.

Along these lines, guiding industry innovation so that it can properly address emerging requirements, counter threats and promote greater affordability is a key focus as we move forward. We encourage all industry partners to submit candidate systems and demonstrate their capabilities. Our strategy is intended to increase competition, decrease costs and provide the most effective communications solutions for our soldiers. It is also aligned with the Army’s broader efforts to leverage commercially available technology to meet network capability needs.

DS: What are your views of radios versus mobile devices?

Wygal: Radios and mobile devices such as smart phones didn’t have much in common until recently. The military and commercial markets have very different specifications and requirements. But we are seeing more similarities as we move forward, particularly as we transition to software-defined radios that push data as well as voice communications. We are also seeing the two woven together, such as the Army combining military radios and commercial smart phone technology for the Nett Warrior (NW) program.

The Android-based end-user devices are not used as phones, but to run applications providing advanced navigation, situational awareness and information sharing to dismounted leaders. The handhelds connect to the Rifleman Radio, which sends and receives information from one NW to another, thus connecting the dismounted leader to the network. These radios will also connect team leaders and above to higher-echelon data and information products to assist in decision-making and situational understanding. As the Army continues to embrace software-defined radios, I think you will see more opportunities for collaboration and evolution in this area.

DS: What's ahead for the radio programs in 2013, regarding milestones, etc.?

Wygal: We will be holding the full and open competitions for the Rifleman and Manpack systems, conducting a rigorous, inclusive competition to assess the capabilities of each radio technology. The acquisition strategy and roadmap for these plans is being finalized at the senior levels of the Army and DOD.

PM TR will also continue to support the fielding of CS 13, the Army’s first complete package of tactical communications systems providing integrated, mobile connectivity throughout the Brigade Combat Team (BCT). Two infantry BCTs of the 10th Mountain Division have already received the Rifleman Radio and AN/PRC-117Gs as part of CS 13, and continue to train with the radios and other network equipment in preparation for their deployment later this year. We also expect to begin fielding the Manpack to the next BCT to receive CS 13, making that the first unit to receive a combined Rifleman and Manpack fielding.

Competitive contracts for the SRW Appliqué will be awarded in 2013, and we will begin to field these systems.

PM TR will continue and complete the field upgrade of more than 2,000 theater-fielded AN/PRC-117G radios. This upgrade will provide an identical capability with inbound CS 13-equipped units, including performance improvements to the Adaptive Networking Wideband Waveform, as well as the addition of the Soldier Radio Waveform and the Integrated Waveform.  

PM TR is working with the Communications-Electronics Command to transition Enhanced Position Location Reporting System into sustainment by the end of 2013, and SINCGARS into sustainment by the end of 2014. These legacy systems essentially birthed the Army’s tactical Internet and will continue to serve the soldier for many years.

Finally, in 2013 we expect to transition the AMF and MNVR organizations to become part of the PM Tactical Radios team. This will take place when their current O-6 level project managers complete their scheduled assignments.



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