JTRS update: Radio systems move closer to deployment, while GMR gets cut

3Variants of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program are on the verge of full deployment in 2012, yet the budget woes of 2011 have knocked out the JTRS Ground Mobile Radio system. Meanwhile, government and industry are evolving the technology behind JTRS – Software-Defined Radio (SDR) – with commercial smartphone technology to improve situational awareness for the warfighter.

Nearly 15 years after the initial concepts of the program were laid out, elements of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) are nearing their first deployment in 2012.

The JTRS program, designed to enable soldiers with different radios to communicate with each other by defining radio functionality in software, was created in 1997 as a group of replacements for various radio programs. After different evolutions and program reorganizations, the JTRS program is now under a Joint Program Executive Officer (JPEO) in San Diego with a specific goal to design a “family of interoperable modular, Software-Defined Radios (SDRs) that operate as nodes in a network that provides secure communication and networking services for mobile and fixed forces, consisting of U.S. Allies, joint, and coalition partners, and in time, disaster response personnel,” according to the JPEO.

The main elements of the JTRS program are the Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit (HMS); Airborne, Maritime, and Fixed Station (AMF); the Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS); and the Ground Mobile Radio (GMR).

Unfortunately, because of the current fiscal climate in Washington, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) officials were forced to re-evaluate the GMR variant and subsequently cancel it. Boeing was the prime contractor for the GMR with Rockwell Collins and BAE Systems on its team.

DoD officials notified members of Congress on a decision to cancel the GMR in October, according to a spokesman for the JTRS JPEO in San Diego. The cancellation enables the Army to pursue “lower cost, effective, and secure alternatives within the available radio market.” Essentially, the Army wants to ensure that the NDI will have the capability to use certain waveforms – Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) and the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) specifically – at an affordable price, according the spokesman.

Army officials say that previous research and development investment in SDRs through the GMR and JTRS program created alternatives that may be more price competitive than the GMR was becoming.  

Army leaders are planning to conduct a full and open competition in early 2012, aimed at leveraging mature technologies for a replacement to the GMR.  The new program will manage “the evaluation, testing, and delivery of affordable Non-Developmental Item (NDI) products fielded to operational units.”

According to the JPEO JTRS spokesman, Brig. Gen. Michael E. Williamson, JPEO JTRS told a media roundtable the NDI radios are likely to meet revised requirements at a lower cost, with key improvements in radio Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP). Competition and the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) will be used to evaluate and test the radios.

And then there were three

The HMS, AMF, and MIDS are all in various stages of production with deployment on track for next year. None have been cancelled, but system integrators on those programs are acutely aware of the cost pressures coming out of the Pentagon.

“Of course there are concerns with DoD budget cuts. The whole industry is concerned and debates and discussions are ongoing in Congress,” says Joe Miller, Director of JTRS Military Radio Programs for General Dynamics C4 Systems in Phoenix. “I will say this much: As far as HMS is concerned, the Army is strongly behind it.”

“The Army really doesn’t have any choice but to buy these radios, as their current radios don’t support networking waveforms,” Miller says. The networking waveforms key to HMS include the SRW, the Sideband Networking Waveform (SNW), and the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) waveform, he says.

On HMS “we have progressed through Milestone C and are currently under Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) for the two-channel Manpack and orders for the Rifleman radio,” Miller says (Figure 1). “We will start delivering Rifleman units at the end of this year with Manpacks following next year, with testing an ongoing process.”

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Figure 1: The Manpack JTRS radio from General Dynamics Systems is part of the JTRS Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit (HMS) program.
(Click graphic to zoom by 1.9x)

Milestone C is the part of the acquisition process where entry into the production and development phase is approved.

Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is also on the HMS variant, producing and implementing software infrastructure in the Manpacks to host new waveforms as they are developed, says Robert Haag, Vice President and General Manager of Communication and Navigation Products for Rockwell Collins.

“JTRS will continue to evolve as we add capability features to it, and there will be additional international waveforms” adapted as they operate with allied troops, Haag says.

Lockheed Martin AMF

The Lockheed Martin AMF JTRS team has also been restructuring their services to be more cost effective and get through Milestone C by 2013, says James Quinn, Vice President, C4ISR Systems at Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions in Littleton, Colo.

The Army is currently putting the AMF and HMS radio systems and their designers through NIE demonstration – to get warfighters used to technology and to test out the capabilities as well.

During the NIE held in November, the AMF JTRS system’s range and capability were tested relaying voice, data, and imagery from a test bed AH-64 Block III Apache helicopter to ground forces over the SRW, according to Lockheed Martin officials.

During the exercise, an AMF JTRS Small Airborne radio in the Apache enabled pilots to communicate with six different ground elements using JTRS HMS Rifleman radios (Figure 2).

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Figure 2: The AMF JTRS system was placed inside an AH-64 Block III Apache helicopter to test range and capability while relaying voice, data, and imagery from the Apache to ground forces over the Soldier Radio Waveform during an Army Network Integration Evaluation.
(Click graphic to zoom by 1.9x)

Using AMF JTRS, the Apache provided an automatic relay enabling warfighters using HMS Rifleman radios to communicate by voice and data with the Apache over long distances. Ground forces were able to mark-up imagery and redistribute to other users connected via the JTRS network through applications on the AMF JTRS radio, according to a Lockheed Martin release.

Lockheed Martin’s AMF JTRS team includes General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and BAE Systems. 

MIDS

The MIDS JTRS terminals are already in production, Haag says. ViaSat in San Diego and Solutions – a joint venture between BAE Systems and Rockwell Collins – are supplying the MIDS JTRS terminals.

The MIDS Program Office most recently awarded MIDS JTRS terminal production contracts to both companies with Data Link Solutions getting about $9 million, and ViaSat receiving more than $13 million, according to a JTRS JPEO release. The contracted work will deliver the first series of annual block cycle software updates for MIDS JTRS terminals. Block Cycle 1 will provide information assurance modernization upgrades and other enhancements.

The four-channel MIDS JTRS features Link 16 capability and can also add other waveforms when needed such as the Rockwell Collins-developed Tactical Targeting Networking Technology (TTNT) waveform, Haag says. The MIDS JTRS Terminals will be used for the F/A-18E/F, the U RC-135, and the EC-130H Compass Call, according to Rockwell Collins.

TTNT – which is a tactical data link for airborne networking – was used this past summer for secure communications in the Unmanned Combat Air System Aircraft Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program, Haag adds.

SDR systems already deployed

While JTRS has yet to be fully deployed, SDRs are being used by warfighters every day in the field.

Some of the most widely fielded radios today are SDRs, says Manuel Uhm, a member of the Wireless Innovation Forum board of directors and Vice President of Marketing for Coherent Logix in Austin, Texas. They include the Harris Falcon III AN/PRC-117G radios and the Thales AN/PRC-148 JEM radio, which were funded as specific JTRS development programs. Both companies developed this on their own nickel, which gave them a huge advantage in getting to market sooner than other JTRS guys, he adds.

The Falcon III AN/PRC-117G multiband manpack radios from Harris RF Communications are software-defined and provide voice, video, and wideband data communications to warfighters, according to a Harris public release. It also uses applications such as collaborative chat, streaming video, and secure networking.

The AN/PRC-148 JEM – The Joint Tactical Radio System Enhanced Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio – is a small, lightweight, and multiband tactical, handheld radio covering the 30-512 MHz frequency range, according to the Thales website.

General Dynamics fielded the first SDR system close to two decades ago with the Digital Modular Radio (DMR) system for U.S. Navy ships. “We are in the sixth production run on the system, which was developed in the early 1990s,” Miller says.

Rockwell Collins engineers are bringing SDR capability to current systems by adding a software-defined architecture to existing radios, Haag says. “We are bringing more value to the warfighter by adding capability to existing ARC-210 radios without taking more space and changing the footprint,” Haag says. Essentially the ARC-210 Gen5 now has SDR capability without needing a new form factor.

“We are trying to demonstrate that you can get improvements in capability without buying new pieces of equipment, but by modifying existing radios,” he says.

The Gen5 uses a software-defined, multiwaveform architecture – a version of the Software Communications Architecture (SCA). It is a form-and-fit replacement for current ARC-210 radios and also complies with National Security Agency (NSA) cryptographic initiatives.

The new ARC-210 radio will have Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) UHF data link capability and will support insertion of Tactical Secure Voice (TSV), Integrated Waveform, Combat Net Radio, and SRW.

SDR beyond JTRS

JTRS and SDR technology essentially created a revolution – turning radios into powerful computers with an RF front end, Miller says.

In the future, the SDR system will continue to evolve along these lines and eventually adapt attributes and features of popular commercial devices such as tablets or iPads, where functionality and capability will be in the form of applications added through the software, he continues. Different applications will be uploaded, run on the SDR for specific missions and different needs using waveforms with different performance characteristics based on mission requirements, Miller adds.

Potential applications include , target tracking, mosaic for video, sniper detection, combat identification, and monitoring warfighter health, Miller says.

The next evolution will be turning these radios/computers into a sensor system by adding sensors to the equipment. When each radio becomes a sensor, a diverse spatial network is created in a mobile environment, Miller says. Each warfighter with a radio becomes a node on the sensor network. These “sensors” provide greater situational awareness to the command and control elements that analyze the information, he continues.

The U.S. military is much closer to demonstrating some of these applications today, and General Dynamics is under contract to further develop some of them, Miller says. For example, Army planners are looking for more commercial solutions like so they can leverage the low cost of these devices while still protecting the data on the systems, he explains. A lot of companies are working on using the Android and running secure applications on its operating system, he adds.

“We have an Android-based device that integrates with the Rifleman Radio and is worn on wrist that pulls up and displays maps,” Miller says.

Smartphone-like devices are definitely the future, as they are very compact and, most importantly, can run for a significant length of time on battery power, Uhm says.

Technology at the component level is beginning to catch up with SDR, which is enabling this transformation, Miller says.

SDR technology continues to evolve as it takes advantage of commercial cellular and tablet technology, Haag says. There is a lot of opportunity to drive cost improvements through new processing elements, backplane configurations, and memory cores.