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Advanced Network Aids New NATO State

September 2006
By Henry S. Kenyon

 
The Slovak army’s mobile military communications system (MOKYS) will link warfighters across all echelons. Mobile command posts will use high-data-rate digital radios to connect small tactical units with national headquarters.
Modern communications equipment allows a small nation to interoperate, cooperate with larger allied powers.

Slovakia is preparing to deploy a highly sophisticated mobile communications system for its army. Linking all echelons, from small tactical units to national headquarters, the network consists of state-of-the-art software-defined radios interfaced with legacy equipment. The system’s Internet protocol-based technology is compatible with U.S. and NATO equipment, allowing Slovak forces to participate in multinational operations.

The mobile military communications system (MOKYS) consists of handheld and manpack radios linked to mobile command posts. The vehicle-based systems will use line-of-sight and radio relays to connect with strategic-level networks. “It [MOKYS] provides the flow of information from the MOD [Ministry of Defense] down to the soldier as well as horizontal communications between brigade and battalion command posts,” says Daniel Quinn, MOKYS program manager, BAE Systems, Green Lawn, New York.

MOKYS includes a variety of equipment ranging from legacy low-bandwidth voice communications systems to advanced programmable radios providing data and voice capabilities. The software-based radios will form a gateway to the wideband communications networks connecting command posts. The system’s Internet protocol (IP) infrastructure uses a combination of military and commercial technologies designed to meet the Slovak government’s current and future needs.

Slovak army command posts will use Ericsson line-of-sight equipment to link with national strategic communications networks. Quinn notes that MOKYS also will give the military the mobility and flexibility to support coalition forces during international deployments because it meets NATO interoperability standards.

The handheld and manportable equipment is based on the Rhode and Schwarz M3TR family of software programmable radios. The M3TR radios also have an IP interface that allows them to link with the command post systems comprising BAE Systems wideband programmable networking radios. Quinn says that the BAE Systems radios can form a wireless local area network extension with a 10-megabit transmission data rate, providing the command post with networking capability and mobility.  “Typically, command posts are statically placed and connected via line-of-sight. This radio gives them full IP routing capability as an outgrowth of networking radios that we developed in the United States,” he explains.

The high-bandwidth links provided by the command post radios allow the army to use battlefield video and imagery applications. BAE Systems also can provide modular interfaces permitting command post radios to link at the router level with legacy Eurocom systems as well as with IP, asynchronous transfer mode and integrated services digital network systems.

Because the system is so novel, Quinn claims that it is the most sophisticated of its kind in Europe. The modern networking capability allows the Slovak military to operate a variety of command, control, communications and computer (C4) applications across a range of tactical to strategic missions. “This not only gives them voice and data communication, but also it provides a common C4 suite that allows them to use graphics and text standard messaging formats,” he says.

Quinn explains that the C4 capability is an outgrowth of smaller BAE Systems programs across Europe. He believes that a potentially large market exists for modernizing military communications systems. He adds that while Slovakia is a leader in this area, many central and eastern European nations soon will need to upgrade their equipment to meet NATO interoperability standards.

The MOKYS program began in May 2005 when the Slovak government initiated an international contract for a new mobile communications system. Quinn explains that the program was a move by the Slovak government to meet its NATO force requirements. In the tender, the government sought international firms experienced in providing communications and information systems. “They were really looking for a large system integrator to perform these requirements for them,” Quinn says.

 
The new MOKYS system will provide the Slovak army with state-of-the-art communications equipment and networks that are fully interoperable with NATO and U.S. systems.
Six firms responded to the multiphase contract. The process began with a proposal phase, followed by a demonstration phase and a cost phase. At each stage of the effort, firms were eliminated based on the government’s requirements. Quinn notes that BAE Systems successfully competed against General Dynamics, Thales, Selex, Harris and Tadiran. He explains that BAE Systems’ multinational team was an important factor in winning the contract. “We addressed it with both U.S. and NATO solutions involving equipment from Rhode and Schwarz, Ericsson, BAE Systems, Cisco Systems and Northrop Grumman,” he says.

Another aspect of the winning equation derived from including local Slovak firms in the program. Quinn estimates that local firms are doing about 30 percent of the work. “We took advantage of the expertise in country—those firms that were familiar with the local equipment as well as the military inventory and the vehicle installation capability—and applied that to the international team,” he explains.

The MOKYS program is scheduled to span nine years. It is currently in its design phase, which will be followed by prototype construction and serial production over the next eight years. The project will outfit the entire Slovak army and will provide an interface with the air force. Quinn notes that the BAE Systems wideband radio can serve as a gateway to communicate with airborne platforms.

The program is valued at from $150 million to $200 million, and it is the largest contract ever awarded by the Slovak government. “From a U.S. business perspective, the actual size of the contract doesn’t seem huge. But when you put it in the context of a country with a population of only five million people—this being the largest military tender that’s been given out to a private company—it’s very significant,” says Barney O’Kelly, BAE Systems media relations manager, Farnborough, England.

Slovakia’s new communications system also reflects the significant role smaller nations can play in NATO operations, O’Kelly says. Because the United States is a major player in the alliance, interoperability with U.S. forces is key. “It’s almost a case of Slovakia mimicking trends in the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of wringing further value from existing assets rather than replacing them wholesale. It’s a key affordability theme that the British government certainly seized on, and I think we’re going to see something similar in the United States as well,” he maintains.

Quinn adds that Slovakia is putting money where it is needed most. Buying sophisticated and expensive platforms such as fighter aircraft is not the best application of the country’s defense resources, but developing an interoperable communications system allows it to participate fully in NATO and coalition operations. By equipping its military with IP-based programmable equipment, Slovakia can quickly upgrade and modernize its communications network, he notes. Quinn believes that Slovakia will be the benchmark for other new NATO nations to model for modern communications systems.

O’Kelly also sees the program as setting a commercial example for many nations in the region. “Involving local industry to the extent that we have and deconstructing the requirement so that it is the best fit for that particular customer are fairly novel approaches for some of these countries. In the past I think there’s been a tendency where they’ve been oversold a capability, rather than getting something that fits their requirement exactly but still gives them room to expand in the future,” he says.

 

Web Resources
Slovak Ministry of Defense: www.mosr.sk/index.php?page=64
BAE Systems: www.baesystems.com