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Waveform Navigates Radio Labyrinth

November 2010
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

 

Rodney Smith (l) and Ted Krainski, members of the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on-the-move (C4ISR OTM) team, set up radios as static nodes. Dismounted soldiers interacted with these "static soldiers," passing scripted voice and situational awareness traffic between squad leaders to the riflemen.

Obstructions no longer get in the way of vital communications.

Work on the Soldier Radio Waveform is focusing on increasing the number of nodes—currently up to 36 radios—that can stay connected in a chaotic environment. Recent testing indicates that it shows great promise for keeping warfighters at the platoon level connected to their squad leader with both data and voice even when communications among the entire squad are lost. The waveform searches for other available radios from the same squad, then hops back through the nodes to create a path for data and voice communications.

Creation of the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW), a program of record, is taking place at the communications-electronics center at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Specifically, it is part of the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on-the-move (C4ISR OTM) group. Eric Williams, assessment lead for C4ISR OTM, explains that the SRW is best described as a self-healing network. When squad members lose communications because of obstacles in the terrain, the SRW re-establishes connectivity by leveraging other squad radios.

Although its capability has been proven in the past using fewer nodes, an assessment that took place this summer during the Army’s annual integrated capabilities event at Fort Dix, New Jersey, demonstrated that connectivity can be attained among 36 nodes. This quantity is important because it is the typical size of a platoon that comprises four squads, he relates.

Fort Dix was chosen for the analysis because its environment features not only forests and rolling hills but also a small city of structures, which adds realism to the investigation. Dismounted soldiers interacted with each other and stationary nodes. Although the dialogue about situational awareness was scripted, the testing demonstrated that information could be shared from the squad leader to the lowest level rifleman and back, which was the purpose of the exercise.

This summer’s assessment focused on the SRW from the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS); the SRW is a program of record, notes Glenn Briceno, chief architect for C4ISR OTM. He emphasizes that examination of the waveform is taking place with an eye toward the Army’s needs in 2013 and 2014. “It boils down to, ‘What can we expect?’” Briceno says.

The Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T) is the future, and JTRS involves even more futuristic waveforms that include the SRW and the Wideband Networking Waveform, or WNW. The evaluation at FortDix also included the Highband Networking Waveform and the Net Centric Waveform. This is the first time all four waveforms were integrated with their respective battle command and ISR assets and assessed as one network.

“We cater more to the Army since we are an Army organization, but we are not limited and can look at other services to participate,” he emphasizes. The goal is to determine how to support both software and hardware by creating solutions that fit into programs of record (POR) assets such as WIN-T. The FortDix event featured POR software but non-POR hardware. Environmentally speaking, the OTM group not only strives to test and evaluate systems in a realistic arena but also incorporates soldiers into the evaluation whenever possible, Briceno notes.

While many military information technology developers focus on keeping a network up and running, in a systems-of-systems situation the C4ISR OTM crew also concentrates on readiness. “Is this system ready to be deployed out of the box?” he says. The issues here include what is needed to support a new product as it enters the field and the training to understand how to use it. “Can you take the cook out of the kitchen and can he operate this radio, or does using the radio require a handful of engineers to operate it?” These are all factors C4ISR OTM personnel examine as they evaluate capabilities, he adds.

Work on the SRW has taken place incrementally over the past four years, Briceno allows, but the “big home run” this year was the ability to grow the network to the size of a typical platoon. “It is maturing. Years ago, we were lucky if we could get 18 to 20 soldiers on the network. From an operations perspective, about 40 soldiers make up a platoon, so stretching the number to 36 is significant,” he explains. Personnel working on the SRW also are examining how to increase that number so it can be deployed to operational units as necessary even when they are larger than the typical platoon.

To explain how the architecture of the SRW functions, Briceno uses the analogy of the commercial cell phone topology. In areas with large populations, a multitude of cell towers have been erected to handle the traffic. However, in rural areas where the need for coverage is less, fewer towers are necessary to provide coverage. In military terms, at times soldiers are in locations that allow everyone in a platoon to radio each other. But when they enter mountainous or urban areas, the platoon’s radios’ SRW kicks in to overcome the environmental factors that obstruct connectivity by routing communications through active radios.

 

In Afghanistan today, soldiers are using a variety of radios to communicate, including the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, which was designed for reliable, secure communications. Future communications equipment will include the Warfighter Information Network–Tactical and the Joint Tactical Radio System.

During the assessment at FortDix, the entire platoon of soldiers communicated concurrently to simulate pushing the amount of traffic to the limit, Briceno explains. As does Verizon, the SRW uses code division multiple access (CDMA) to support the channels. CDMA is particularly effective when all squad members use their radios simultaneously, he adds, and soldiers know when they can use their radios without interrupting others.

Briceno likens this activity to conversations going on in a crowded restaurant. When entering the establishment, patrons hear the conversational noise taking place throughout the room. But at the table level, customers within the same party focus on the voices of those within their group, so each understands when he or she can speak without interrupting someone else. “Ideally, we would like part of the bandwidth to be for private conversations. CDMA allows some of that,” he adds.

The SRW solves a number of problems for the Army. First, some reserve resources within the waveform can improve quality of service in terms of how resources are allocated. Second, the Army is examining the SRW today to ensure that it will be able to support other types of architectures it was not developed to sustain. Third, the waveform improves network planning and management.

Finally, the waveform will enable the Army to integrate with other services such as the WIN-T, which has unique capabilities and enables communications that reach up to the company level. “SRW brings the network to the person,” Briceno states. “We also are looking at things we’ve never looked at before. How can networks with enhanced services give different options and inform decision makers about options they didn’t think of?”

Briceno and his team have been impressed with the work that the contractors have contributed to both developing and assessing the SRW. He emphasizes that both groups constantly and consistently focus on the needs of the warfighters to the point that, at times during assessment at FortDix, it was difficult to tell who worked for the government and who worked for a corporation. This openness to warfighter support as a priority is extremely important to the Army, he says.

Although the C4ISR OTM Event 2010 comprised 25 activities that support warfighters through the organization, Briceno emphasizes that it is not an end-to-end assessment. Instead, it is an opportunity for industry to work with the Army and identify problems early in development rather than after a solution is fielded. Results and lessons learned from the event will be compiled in a C4ISR OTM report that will be distributed to Army and U.S. Defense Department leadership.

“The next phase will be to take the network we’ve stood up and integrate it with other systems-of-systems that are in line with the capability sets 2013-2014 and the Future Force architecture,” Briceno says. “We’re looking at integrating this JTRS waveform with a surrogate WIN-T type element that will notionally flush out architectures for Stryker Brigade Combat Team and a Heavy Brigade Combat Team-based force structure.”

Other future activities his group is considering include determining how to integrate input received from sensors into the SRW live voice and data communications and how to use the SRW to improve networking and planning. In particular, the C4ISR OTM team is interested in building profiles of the various waveforms that are being created and then standardizing these profiles. These profiles would include the services a waveform provides as well as the data services it offers and how it can be used so that network usage can be optimized, Briceno explains. “It’s not one-size-fits-all,” he states.

WEB RESOURCE
C4ISR OTM: www.cerdec.army.mil/directorates/pmc4isr.asp