The Joint Program Executive Office Joint Tactical Radio System (JPEO JTRS) has made its first major release of the Software Communications Architecture (SCA) in 10 years. This change updates a minor version released in 2005 and enables smaller, faster communications devices that cost less.
Available through the SCA website, the draft SCA Next came out late last year not to fix a problem, but to perform a technical refresh compared to SCA 2.2.2. "We want to emphasize the SCA 2.2.2 is still very functional, but SCA Next is just an upgrade—similar to an operating system upgrade," Dr. Richard North, technical director of JPEO JTRS, explains. Features and capabilities now available for radio-set developers include new component and device registration, lightweight components, new port interfaces and optional Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), a computer processing technology invented to provide communications between computers.
"SCA Next is permitting interprocessor communication other than CORBA, such as the Remote Procedure Call used in today's Android phones," North says. This allows developers to reduce overhead, which costs battery life.
Since the first SCA came out, the standard has been a one-size-fits-all approach, burdening the smallest handheld while constraining multichannel radios in weapons systems platforms. "SCA Next allows radio designers to determine if a software component needs a self-test interface or needs to support plug-and-play," North explains. "This permits smaller software components, reduced testing, reduced software maintenance and other good things for the warfighter and the [military]." The result is more flexibility and scalability because of the many architectural changes to the standard.
SCA Next has an improved design pattern for discovering and configuring radios upon startup. The new “push” model facilitates quicker startup and extends a “least privilege” design pattern. Software components have access to the minimum resources necessary for their mission.
JPEO JTRS believes troops will take the new capabilities and run with them to enhance missions. "We expect that today’s tech-savvy warfighters will quickly develop new strategies to exploit the information superiority far beyond situational awareness," North states.
Officials consider the draft release as a detailed specification containing everything necessary to implement the standard. A companion users' guide provides an introduction and example configurations. North explains that "additional content will be added to this document as comments and questions are received from the radio community. There are several commercial vendors that offer SCA-compatible products that improve the productivity of radio developers. We anticipate new products to be announced for SCA Next over the next few years."
Before formal acceptance of the draft specification, it must undergo a one-year analysis and review phase. During that time, JTRS and other program personnel will evaluate the specification and submit comments and change requests. According to North, the Wireless Innovation Forum is establishing a website for the open community to submit their comments and suggestions.
"Prototyping is encouraged and will provide additional validation and verification of the specification," North says. By the end of 2011, a vote will determine whether the specification becomes a new formal version of the SCA. If so, the "Next" in the name will be replaced by a version number.