Agreement Opens Communications for Joint Tactical Radio System

September 15, 2008
by Rita Boland

The Joint Program Executive Office Joint Tactical Radio System (JPEO JTRS) and the Software Defined Radio (SDR) Forum have signed a formal agreement to collaborate on JTRS technology development and share information about capabilities. The understanding will open communication lines between the military and industry and academia that will enable the program office to continue creating solutions as well as clarifying standards for future projects.

The agreement offers a better opportunity for the program executive office to discuss its needs with members of the forum and leverage ideas from ongoing science, technology, research and development efforts. Though the JPEO JTRS already is a member of the forum, the formal arrangement makes official processes that allow program office personnel technical access to white papers, research and industry surveys in the SDR and wireless network areas. “We’re excited about this agreement because what it does is provide an avenue for us within government to have access to both industry and academia,” John Armantrout, chief technology officer for the JPEO JTRS, says. 

Technical teams across the JPEO include program offices working on current and near-term solutions to field capabilities for SDRs and wireless networks to the warfighter. The agreement makes it easier for the executive office to learn about innovative ideas for next-generation technology from nontraditional sources. “The [JPEO JTRS] gets a much broader look at current and future states for SDRs and wireless networking that we wouldn’t normally have if we didn’t have this avenue,” Armantrout explains. By tapping into the work and vision of outside partners, the JPEO JTRS can prepare for future needs without disrupting the work of the technical teams that are fielding the capabilities necessary for today’s battlefield.

Companies and educational institutions benefit from the arrangement by presenting their current projects and sharing information about how they are spending their research and development funding. By working together from the outset, private and public partners can establish standards with input from all players and consequently free developers to create innovative solutions within known parameters. “Those capabilities would be able to be utilized in our future systems much more easily because they’re built to those standards,” Armantrout states.

The JPEO JTRS wants the engineers who participate in the SDR Forum to share their ideas on how to define software communication architecture or establish application program interfaces. “Their insight…is invaluable,” Armantrout says. The standards put everyone on a single path to working SDRs that benefit military troops and other customers of forum members. Conversely, the military will learn about advances in the SDR and wireless arenas developed for other agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In addition, inviting the early participation of nonmilitary development partners helps the JPEO JTRS gain insight into cost saving ideas, a major concern for private entities and the government.

Armantrout emphasizes that innovation is the key to future JTRS systems. “We have to have an avenue to discover what is going on, and then we have to have the process set up to be able to utilize those innovations, whether hardware or software capabilities,” he says. The agreement allows the military to have the vision to look for advancement for SDR wireless capabilities to assist warfighters with the necessary input from various partners, he adds.

Despite the agreement’s formalization of greater information sharing, it does not mandate when or where any meetings will take place, and there is no cost associated with the deal. “It’s just a mutual agreement to support each other,” Armantrout says. It also opens doors for innovators such as small businesses that might otherwise have difficulty accessing the military to share their ideas. The JPEO JTRS seeks those thoughts and to pull in partners who would have limited exposure to government decision makers. 

Armantrout adds that the input from all sources is critical to success, whether or not those sources are in the government. Inviting ideas from various parties enables the executive office to better understand the future landscape of technology in its area of focus so it can move beyond involvement in the current build process and look ahead.

Though no specific interactions are required, the JPEO JTRS and the SDR Forum have agreed to co-host a meeting in January 2009 in San Diego. Speakers are yet to be finalized, but Armantrout shares that they will address the subject of joint U.S. Defense Department communications and the importance of industry-academia-military partnerships as well as how to improve communications not only across the Defense Department but also across a wider audience. In addition, JPEO JTRS personnel will attend small forum technical meetings during the large meeting to discuss software communications architecture and application programming interfaces, and they will give input on standards.

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