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Breakthrough Continues Comms When Jamming IEDs

February 24, 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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U.S. Army developers have installed in Afghanistan the first technology that permits radio communications to continue while soldiers use jammers to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A team from the Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) traveled to the Middle Eastern country to integrate the Cosite Mitigation System (CMS) into Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) All-Terrain Vehicles (M-ATVs) in a field operational assessment to prove the system's functionality. Impetus for the project came from the U.S. Central Command, which identified a joint urgent operational need for this type of technology to protect troops from IEDs without impairing their ability to share critical information.

The CMS hardware solution works by means of a filter that targets the frequency from Counter RCIED (Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device) Electronic Warfare (CREW) systems to jam the signals from the detonators. In the past, jamming that frequency meant that troops in the area lost radio communications as well. With the solution, incoming noise is interrupted but the frequency remains available for communications.

To implement the capability, hardware is placed on both the jammer and the communications systems—in this case, PRC-117 radios. The mitigation system will work with both the PRC-117F and 117G, and Army officials are discussing including it in future 117G deployment packages. Testing with those specific radios and with the M-ATVs is significant; the Army plans to field thousands more of the 117s and the vehicles are one of the most common in Afghanistan. However, Dr. Mahbub Hoque, division chief of the Antennas and Spectrum Analysis Division at CERDEC, explains that the solution is a separate filter that would work on any radio operating at a certain frequency. Because radio systems generally operate on a specific part of the spectrum, the PRC-117 is the most likely to take advantage of the CMS in its current form.

During the testing with the Army's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) in Bagram, patrols were able to communicate back to higher headquarters from distances up to 80 kilometers (approximately 50 miles) away while the jammers were in operation. Jeremy Scott, electrical engineer at CERDEC's RF Modeling and Simulation Branch, says tests went extremely well, with deployed soldiers providing the scientists and engineers positive feedback. Scott traveled to Afghanistan as one of a team of six CERDEC personnel including colleague Jerson Zuniga, electronics engineer, EMI Mitigation and RF Material Research Branch, who explains that users were so pleased with the results that they immediately requested another 10. As a result, 22 total systems are currently in use in the war zone. Other groups also helped with the work such as Project Manager CREW, Tobyhanna Army Depot and Task Force Paladin.  Work was coordinated through Combined Joint Task Force 101, which is in charge of Regional Command-East where the 86th IBCT is located. James Koh, chief of the EMI Mitigation and RF Material Research Branch, who also traveled to Bagram, says the task force's J-6 recommended to the commanding general that CMS be fielded throughout the theater. He adds that PM CREW also issued a letter of endorsement for the system.

In addition to addressing a serious gap in soldier capability, the project had at least two other positive results. For one, researchers who deployed had a chance to understand better the impact their work has in the field and what warfighters require. Koh says that even though the team took rocket fire, all the engineers said they would perform the work again.

Hoque explains the other result—the project emphasized the self-sufficiency and advancement of military laboratories. Rather than a private-industry partner doing most of the work, CERDEC scientists designed the solution in-house and worked with an outside partner only when it came time to develop the prototype.