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Industry Lays Foundations for Future Military Radios

November 2003
By Henry S. Kenyon

Firms offer different solutions, approaches for next-generation tactical communications system.

A major U.S. Defense Department research program is developing lightweight, miniaturized, low-power radios for dismounted infantry and support equipment. The program, which is part of an initiative to replace the current generation of military radios, has drawn competing design teams from across the defense industry.

Interoperability is a key issue in the move toward advanced software definable radio systems. Lessons learned from operation Desert Storm indicated a need for greater communications between the services during combat, necessitating the development of radios sharing common waveforms usable by all the services and that can be rapidly reprogrammed in the field.

The result of this push is the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program. Organized around a series of development clusters targeting radios for specific military needs, this endeavor will replace the multiple radio sets currently in use with multifunction devices. The initial contract for Cluster 1, which will provide radios for ground vehicles and helicopters, was awarded last year (SIGNAL, August 2002, page 47).

Scheduled for award in early 2004, Cluster 5 will develop handheld, manpack and embedded radios for U.S. ground forces. The contract and associated radio procurements are valued at more than $1 billion over the next 10 years. The program ties into other ongoing efforts such as Land Warrior, Objective Force Warrior (OFW) and Future Combat Systems. Cluster 5 is managed by the U.S. Army Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T), Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

Among the industry teams competing for the Cluster 5 bid are two groups led by ITT Industries, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and General Dynamics, Scottsdale, Arizona. The ITT team consists of the Harris Corporation, Rochester, New York; The Boeing Company, Seal Beach, California; and 13 smaller subcontractors. Rudy Lewis, vice president and general manager of ITT’s communications group, notes that the team has considerable experience with networking systems. He believes that one of his group’s advantages comes from lessons learned while developing mobile networking systems such as the United Kingdom’s Bowman program (SIGNAL, November 2001, page 41). Harris and ITT entered into a close relationship during this effort, ultimately sharing management and production facilities in the United Kingdom. 

Boeing lends its expertise in technology development and architecture integration to the undertaking. Lewis notes that Boeing’s knowledge of both waveforms and systems engineering ties the entire package together for Cluster 5. “Between ourselves, Harris and Boeing, we have access to all of the significant waveforms and the knowledge to tailor the solution to embed the waveforms and also address the smallness and the need to operate on very limited battery power,” he says.

The JTRS waveform is an important key to the program. Lewis notes that the three companies all participated in developing the requirements for the JTRS software communications architecture (SCA) and that it has been implemented to varying degrees in different systems.

Because Cluster 5 concentrates on small radios, the primary challenge is meeting size, weight and power requirements, which extend beyond manportable systems to deployable sensors that must operate for days at a time. “It’s just as important for the embedded applications as for handhelds and manpacks,” Lewis says. He adds that ITT and Harris are heavily involved in work with the OFW program, which also requires small communications and networking devices.

Harris’ Sierra 2 cryptographic module allows the technology to be tailored to the program’s requirements for embedded systems. Kevin Kane, Harris’ director of business development, U.S. government business, in Rochester, explains that it has been designated as the heart of JTRS Cluster 1’s cryptographic module. “We believe that Sierra 2 will create a tremendous embeddable security module for the Cluster 5 platform because it requires something with low power consumption and JTRS capability,” he says.

 Kane adds that Harris’ software defined manpack radios such as the Falcon II also serve as a testbed for a portable radio capable of carrying the JTRS SCA. Funded by the JTRS Program Office, Arlington, Virginia, the effort seeks to prove that the SCA can efficiently operate on manportable radios and to study related issues such as power consumption. He says that Harris also is developing a JTRS-compatible handheld radio.

Lewis believes that using common design elements across all of the Cluster 5 configurations will enhance military cost savings by taking advantage of common, open hardware, software and networking design.  This creates advantages for production and logistics support. “It also continues to create an advantage as you address things like obsolescence and growth in the future,” he says.

The technologies under development for Cluster 5 apply to other programs such as WIN-T. A participant in the WIN-T program, ITT plans to use the technology developed for JTRS across a variety of programs that require communications systems.

ITT has focused efforts on a related program called the soldier-level integrated communications environment (SLICE). Sponsored by the U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, the program evolved from earlier work to develop networked situational awareness and communications capabilities for infantrymen. SLICE focuses on providing embedded communications for individual soldiers through reduced size and added functionality for complementary systems such as sensors. Lewis notes that these efforts apply to programs like JTRS Cluster 5 because of the shared emphasis on small embedded devices.

Networking expertise is another requirement for Cluster 5. Lewis explains that many of the networking considerations for JTRS are at the heart of the tactical Internet, which is based on routers operating on the single channel ground and airborne radio system. Although ITT did not provide the application for this system, it designed and developed the infrastructure on which it operates. The firm gained additional expertise developing systems capable of operating in harsh non-line-of-sight environments through its work on program such as Bowman. This work is being extended into SLICE and other mobile data distribution programs.

The primary members of the General Dynamics team are BAE Systems, Rockwell Collins and Thales Communications. According to Joseph Miller, General Dynamics Cluster 5 program manager, the team already has a prototype Cluster 5 radio ready for evaluation. The device is an embedded version of a Land Warrior application. Thales is a prime contractor for JTRS Cluster 2, and the company has an SCA-compliant handheld device that serves as a prototype for this cluster. BAE and Rockwell Collins are the radio manufacturers for JTRS Cluster 1, and the technology and waveforms for Cluster 1 apply to Cluster 5. 

General Dynamics is using a modular design approach for its Cluster 5 radios. Although some missions and applications may be different, the system requirements are similar, Miller says. The team will use the similarities across individual missions and factors for cost savings and development and production efficiencies. He notes that the U.S. government has made this job easier by specifying which JTRS sets have to run with specific waveforms. These guidelines permit developers to derive requirements such as systems interfacing with the radios and which JTRS sets will communicate with each other.

General Dynamics helped develop the SpeakEasy digital radios and the current generation of digital modular systems in service with the U.S. Navy. Some of the firm’s radios, such as the PRC-112, have been redesigned as software defined systems. A satellite waveform was added to the radio after it was developed, opening the door for new capabilities and functionality for users, he says. General Dynamics is a founding member of the SCA forum that developed the JTRS communications architecture.

“When we started to put a team together, our first and foremost focus was on getting radio manufacturers who understood all of the unique domains that this thing has to cover,” Miller says. The skills are needed because Cluster 5 must cover a range of devices from handheld and manpack systems to embedded radios inside unattended sensors, munitions, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and robots. “We were specifically looking for companies with both the radio manufacturing and development understanding, but also the understanding of the domains and applications where these radios will be used,” he says.

Enhancing interoperability remains a central tenet for the program. “The ability of the warfighter to operate in his environment is severely restricted right now. He can’t get access to needed systems and information because current radios don’t communicate with each other. I think the onus on the original [JTRS] intent was really focused on interoperability, and that came out of lessons learned from Desert Storm,” he says.

The airborne component of the JTRS program also is underway. Known as Cluster 4, it will develop software programmable radios to replace many of the communications systems on current aircraft. As a joint program, it will affect the aviation fleets of all the armed forces.

Administered by the U.S. Air Force Electronic Systems Command, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, the program will award pre-system development and demonstration contracts to two industry teams at the end of the year. Each team will receive $20 million and will have 13 months to define system and interface requirements for Cluster 4. This action will proceed to a preliminary design review followed by operational requirements testing in late 2004 and a final downselect and contract award in the first quarter of 2005 for a prototype and low-rate initial production worth more than $500 million. 

Two teams, led by Lockheed Martin, Bethesda, Maryland, and Boeing, have submitted proposals for the Cluster 4 contract.

Lockheed Martin team members include General Dynamics Decision Systems, Northrop Grumman Space Technology–Radio Systems, Raytheon Integrated Communications Systems, ViaSat and Cisco Systems. According to Glenn Kurowski, Lockheed Martin’s program director for airborne JTRS, a major challenge will be designing the radios to integrate economically with the more than 65 different aircraft types used by the U.S. military.

Another challenge will be to design and define the JTRS sets with enough modularity and performance margins to leave sufficient room for future upgrades. He explains that the team members were selected for their expertise with airborne communications and with integrating these systems onto airborne platforms. For example, Kurowski notes that Raytheon led the design process for the SCA, which defines the operating environment for the JTRS radios.

Developing and managing an airborne network will be a daunting task. “It’s something that doesn’t exist today. We can sort of manage the wireless networking environment because there are fixed [ground] elements in it. It’s much more difficult to do in a world where your airborne nodes are moving,” Kurowski says. Other related challenges include developing airborne data services, integrating them into the Global Information Grid and managing the services.

Having been the prime contractor for JTRS Cluster 1, Boeing is approaching the Cluster 4 bid with its original team: BAE Systems Communications, Navigation and Identification; Harris Corporation Radio Frequency Communications division; Rockwell Collins Government Systems; and one new addition, L-3 Communications. Boeing plans to augment lessons learned from Cluster 1 by improving the technology and applying it to an airborne domain, explains Alejandro M. Lopez, Boeing’s director of network communication systems, Integrated Government Systems, Battle Management/Command, Control and Communications and Strategic Systems division, Anaheim, California.

Lopez notes that Cluster 1 involved some of the most difficult design work because the software architecture and hardware systems had to be validated, as was the JTRS wideband networking waveform. He adds that all this work applies to other clusters.

Other critical design issues for Cluster 4 include thermal dissipation and interfaces. Several multiple channel radios working together in one small package creates overheating problems. Lopez notes that engineers addressed this challenge in Cluster 1. The interface problem centers on providing adequate connectivity for the multichannel radios that make up a JTRS unit. “You have a whole set of different antennas operating at different frequencies and bands. Do you solve the problem by having a radio channel that works over the entire frequency range? Do you duplicate that in an antenna? That’s nowhere close to being solved,” he says.