JTRS HMS puts a networking radio in the hands of Soldiers

By Barry Rosenberg-Macaulay

 Lots of military programs talk about bringing situational awareness to Soldiers at the tactical edge, but the only one that puts a networking radio in the hands of Soldiers all the way down to the squad and team level is the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) program.

Equipped with the hand-held Rifleman radio and two-channel Manpack radio, fighting units become more versatile, more lethal and more survivable, due to the enhanced situational awareness that JTRS HMS provides to the dismounted Soldier. It mitigates the problem of operating in an urban or mountainous environment where there is no line-of-sight between radios, and, as a result, being temporarily out of touch and potentially lacking in the information needed to conduct full spectrum operations.

“The networking capability at the tactical edge for the disadvantaged user is the key benefit,” said Army COL John Zavarelli, JTRS HMS program manager. “The Rifleman and Manpack radios are purposely built for the Soldier at Tier One, the most austere and disadvantaged part of any formation. With JTRS HMS we’re giving them the ability to be part of the network with hardware that’s usable, as lightweight as we can make it, and consumes as little power as it can for the purposes of networking. All these elements reduce the burden on the Soldier.”

The HMS Radios
There are three radio types within the JTRS HMS program: the hand-held Rifleman radio, the Manpack radio, and the Small Form Fit radio (for unmanned aerial and ground systems).

The handheld Rifleman is a single-channel radio that uses Type 2 cryptography and operates with the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW). It will initially be fielded to individual riflemen within Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), and could also be fielded to infantry Soldiers in Heavy and Stryker BCTs.

The Manpack radio is a more powerful two-channel radio that provides better performance and range for use at the lowest echelon, and can be carried on the back of a Soldier or mounted in a vehicle. In addition to operating over SRW, it will also operate over the Mobile User Objective Waveform (MUOS), as well as versions of legacy waveforms that include Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS); Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS); Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Satellite Communication (SATCOM); and High Frequency (HF). 

(left) SFF-A (1-2 Channel) and SFF-D (1 Channel); NSA Type 2; 225 MHz to 450 MHz; SFF-D option 1750-1850 MHz

(right) SFF-B; 2-Channel; NSA Type 1 & 2; Runs SRW and SINCGARS; SAASM GPS

In addition, the Manpack radio is being designed as both a National Security Agency (NSA) Type 1 and Type 2 certifiable radio, so it has stronger encryption then the Rifleman radio and can operate over a classified network.

Up to this point, the HMS program has delivered hundreds of engineering design models (EDMs) of the various HMS radios for testing. They include: 213 Small Form Factor (SFF)-A EDMs; 21 SFF-D; 184 JTRS Rifleman radios (AN/PRC-154); and 10 Manpack radios (AN/PRC-155).

Manpack Radio Debuts
In one of the most important milestones for the HMS program, the Manpack radio debuted earlier this year at the Brigade Combat Team Integration Exercise (BCTIE) at White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.

“The BCTIE was a top priority for us,” said Zavarelli. “We had 60 radios out there, and we were tasked with providing support to that integration exercise. The debut of the Manpack radio caused some adjustment to our schedule, but we still plan to seek testing and production decisions in FY2011.”

In the nearer term, the HMS office is working to earn Milestone C for the Rifleman radio prior to the end of FY2011.

(left) AN/ PRC-155 Manpack; 20 Watts; Embedded SAASM GPS; 2-Channel, 2 MHz to 2.5GHz, NSA Type 1 & 2; Supports SRW, SINCGARS, UHF SATCOM, EPLRS, MUOS

(right) AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio; 1-Channel, NSA Type 2; Supports SRW, voice/data; Frequency Range: UHF and L-Band; GPS: Internal GPS module; External SAASM interface

“In the last year we were asked to bring the Rifleman radio forward, and to take it to a separate test and seek a production decision,” said Zavarelli. “We’re on track for the Rifleman radio to go into a limited user, operational assessment in the early 2011.”

Program managers had hoped to have received Milestone C authorization and Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) for the Rifleman radio at the end of 2009, but issues that arose during the important Limited User Test (LUT) in April 2009 have stretched the timeline, explained Victor Popik, JTRS HMS deputy program manager. The program has been addressing those issues with the latest Rifleman radios now being tested. Popik also pointed out that while Milestone C for the handheld radio is still to come, the Manpack schedule has been impacted minimally.

“The problems and issues we saw during the April 2009 LUT seem to be laying flat,” he said.

Lessons Learned at White Sands
Earlier this year, the HMS program got its best look at the program to date, deploying 60 radios (45 Rifleman/15 Manpack) in support of the BCTIE. Using ground radios and an aerial tier that included Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, as well as the Shadow UAV, Soldiers were able to communicate over a distance of 30 km (18.6 mi) using the SRW and Rifleman radio. The Manpack radio was able to communicate over 30 km without the need for an aerial tier.

“Having the Rifleman radio with the squad and individual riflemen in two separate platoons we were populating network capability down the lowest level,” said Zavarelli. “From the tactical edge of the Soldiers, they were using these ground radios and accompanying aerial tier to communicate across multiple echelons, as well as up and down echelons.

“It was the first time HMS has done this, due to the debut of the two-channel Manpack. We found that it was a powerful gateway for the small unit. Now, you have to understand that this was a demonstration and did not take place in an operational scenario. But it did demonstrate its value as the gateway into the company and higher networks.”

The Manpack units were used in two configurations: man portable on a Soldier’s back and mounted in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. The MRAP vehicles acted as the company command posts.

Many Soldiers also got their first look at the radios. The general consensus, according to Zavarelli, is that Soldiers like the Small Form Fit radios, saw that it operated cooler and that the battery lasted longer than with other radios. They also liked that the Manpack radio had a second channel. Rather than having to switch radios, they only had to switch headsets or handsets to talk to two different networks simultaneously. Most importantly, they liked the range, which was 30 km without aerial assistance, as mentioned earlier.

“For many Soldiers this was their first experience carrying a radio,” said Zavarelli. “We were giving very young Soldiers a capability they never had before. We learned that you have to make sure they understand the networking construct. And even if they have used a radio before it was a point-to-point radio, not a networking radio.”