PEO C3T Program Review & Vision Guide

These Are Not Your Father’s Radios  

By Amy Walker, Symbolic Systems, Inc., supporting PEO C3T milTech Solutions

An unidentified man drives up to a coalition checkpoint in Afghanistan. The U.S. Solider manning the post takes a picture of the man and sends the image over his radio to the server at his company command post. The reply?  Seize and detain.

“These are not like the radios my dad knew--they are in effect computers,” said Col. Cris Boyd, project manager (PM) of Command Posts (CP). “They are IP-based, meaning they can pass digital data.”

Today’s tactical radios have evolved from their original designs to meet the needs of a changing battlefield. In wars of the past such as World War II, areas of operation were divided by linear boundaries. Since formations like brigades could depend on secured rear areas, they really could maintain their focus to the front and to the left and right. Voice radios were enough to satisfy these early requirements, Boyd explained.

However, in recent combat operations, such as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan, U.S. forces have to operate in an irregular environment. Battalions and brigades are assigned areas of operation (AO) of up to hundreds of square kilometers, and each AO may have a requirement to contend with insurgents, improvised explosive devices and other security challenges.

The forward operating bases in these locations do not have the luxury of having friendly forces close at hand in a rear location. Instead commanders and units must be able to maintain situational awareness, which requires far more real-time intelligence than in the past, Boyd said. Fortunately tactical radios have greatly improved to meet these new requirements.

“Because of increased technology and the fact that many of today’s radios pass data or video, it is allowing for better force protection and better information dissemination,” he said.

Current force tactical radios have endured by taking advantage of improvements in technology and encryption standards. Twenty years ago, military tactical radios were still in their infancy stage, sprouting from unreliable and immature designs, yet over the course of time they were incrementally updated with the latest improvements in technology, said Robert Wilson, deputy PM for CP. The external shells of these radios remained relatively unchanged, but inside many of these products were revolutionized from their original interior and electronic designs.

“We are slowly bringing these enhancements and improved capabilities to the warfighter to keep the radio relevant and to meet demands,” said James Goon, product director for Tactical Radio Communications Systems (PD TRCS). “The radio that we buy today is not the same radio that we bought 20 years ago.”

All of the radios in the current portfolio are designed for a full spectrum of operations, and they continue to provide the solider with the capability needed in the field. In February, the 500,000th Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) radio was delivered to the Army. SINCGARS radios provide commanders with secure, jam resistant, tactical communications for voice, data and video to support command and control operations. They available for ground (man-pack), airborne and vehicular use.

EPLRS radios allows capabilities like Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below to provide situational awareness in urban terrains, whereas satellite communications technology is utilized for mountainous regions. 

Regardless of which front the U.S. engages, the current force programs of record (POR) such as SINCGARS and Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS) are expected to be in use for the next 20-30 years. EPLRS is a digital network radio system that provides secure, jam resistant, near real-time digital communications and position location information.

The warfighter is currently using both of these radios to communicate for line-of-site and beyond line-of-sight satellite communications, Goon said.

Radios, such as EPLRS, expand the PEO C3T network for the battle command solutions it provides. It allows capabilities like Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below to provide situational awareness in urban terrains, whereas satellite communications technology is utilized for mountainous regions.