High Technology Comes to Army Vehicle Intercoms
No longer just communications devices, the newest generation draws from information systems.
The U.S. Army has begun introduction of a new vehicular intercom system designed to offer soldiers 21st century communications features inside a variety of vehicles. A recent milestone decision by the Army’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems (PEO EIS) gave the go-ahead for procurement of the Army-Navy/Vehicle Inter Communications 5 system, or AN/VIC-5.
Warfighters using the AN/VIC-5 will have better hearing protection, enjoy better voice clarity with less distortion and have more room in their vehicles from the new system’s smaller physical footprint. The AN/VIC-5 also offers more versatility in its operation, in terms of both the number of users and technological capability. And, its software-driven construct allows for future upgrades to be downloaded rather than physically installed.
The AN/VIC-5 represents a significant technology leap over its legacy predecessor, the AN/VIC-3, declares Twyman Bledsoe, product director, vehicular intercom systems (PD VIS), PEO EIS. He offers that many users felt limited by the AN/VIC-3 and were installing multiple systems to expand its capability and support more users in a vehicle. Similarly, the new types of radios that were being installed aboard vehicles mandated improvements in intercom technology. The AN/VIC-5 is designed to accommodate more radios, so all crew members in a vehicle can hear radio traffic through their intercom headsets.
“What we’re seeing is an emergence of more of an information technology [system] from telecommunications hardware,” Bledsoe states.
Jim Ward, a member of the PD-VIS technical team, points out that the AN/VIC-3 offers only one or two intercoms for inter-vehicular communication. The AN/VIC-5 provides four intercoms and permits private point-to-point communications between two users in the same vehicle. All told, the AN/VIC-5 can support 20 users and 16 radios.
The AN/VIC-5 employs an improved headset that features a binaural capability, Ward notes. A user can set one earphone to provide input from a battalion commander with the other earphone carrying voice from a company commander and a vehicle driver, for example.
Bledsoe explains that the software-defined AN/VIC-5 is more easily scalable than its predecessor. This will allow it to accommodate more radios as they come online without requiring major intercom replacement efforts. It also features Ethernet connectivity with various systems and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology, which contributes to better audio clarity. And, by providing better hearing protection with clearer voice communications, the AN/VIC-5 also prevents the problem of warfighters suffering latent hearing loss when they exit a vehicle, points out Sidney Backman, PD VIS technical lead.
Soldiers field testing the AN/VIC-5 in Yuma Arizona gave it high marks, Backman adds. They cited voice clarity along with the ability to diagnose the system and maintain it easily.
For the future, the scalable system will be upgraded as need arises, Bledsoe offers. For example, the system may be required to work with LandWarNet, and this capability will be adapted as needed. Ward adds that a vehicle commander might be able to use an existing computer display to control the intercom and all its assets.
The AN/VIC-5 also may be a candidate for replacing some other vehicle systems, which is the goal of the Army’s Vehicle Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability, or VICTORY, program. One goal of VICTORY is to be able to insert audio warnings from various pieces of equipment directly into the intercom, so the user’s ears would hear those warnings directly and immediately.
“You’re looking at the ability for data transfers and being able to perform more functionality than just inter-vehicle communications,” Bledsoe says. “The sky is the limit.”
The AN/VIC-5 is manufactured by Northrop Grumman Cobham Intercoms (NGCI) LLC, which is a joint venture headed by Northrop Grumman and Cobham Defense Systems. The first units should be delivered in January 2014.