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ISSN 1416-300X Volume 12, Issue 1 February 2010

TACTICAL COMMUNICATIONS UPDATE 2010
By Stefan Nitschke, International Defence Analyst and Consultant


Military operations on the today’s digital battlefield are depending upon information superiority and intelligence. Therefore, wideband communications are being increasingly used to provide voice, data, and text messaging capabilities. These are inherently needed to provide battlefield commanders and the individual infantryman with maximum situational awareness. However, if the information is not properly managed and digested, the abundance of data can result in information overload. Whilst absolute deficiencies clearly do exist in the capabilities of the military, there are several key programmes underway throughout Europe which will generate new capabilities in the tactical radio domain for use in major sustained operations.

Why are mobile ground communications to be used?

The key of the today’s and the tomorrow’s military operations is connectivity. Military forces today and tomorrow will need the most accurate and up-to-date information on the battlefield to provide for the right decisions to achieve mission success. The “top to bottom” approach therefore is digital communications, including SATCOM and the latest in IP-based communications. When compared with current terrestrial communications systems (which do have difficulty to cope with the increasing demands for bandwidth), global, highly secure SATCOM technology delivers an increased capability through multi-band solutions to individuals, teams, units or vehicles acting in varying operational scenarios. Although faced with some shortfalls (e.g., abundant traffic collisions), SATCOM technology enables the transmission of huge volumes of latency-sensitive traffic like VoIP (Voice-over-IP) calls, GPS maps, e-mail messages or databases.

British SKYNET 5

A key SATCOM programme in Europe, the British SKYNET 5, is being realised by Paradigm, a wholly owned subsidiary of Astrium Services. It has signed a contract with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to extend and enhance the SKYNET 5 private finance initiative (PFI) programme. This will involve the manufacture, launch, test and operation of a fourth satellite, SKYNET 5D, and the extension of the SKYNET 5 contract by two years until 2022. The contract extension will guarantee the MoD additional capacity on the SKYNET 5 constellation. Since 2003, the ground-breaking SKYNET 5 programme has provided the MoD with a suite of highly robust, reliable, and secure military communications services, supporting operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. The programme commenced by using the legacy SKYNET 4 satellites and then augmenting them with a fully refurbished ground network before launching the SKYNET 5A, 5B, and 5C satellites between 2007 and 2008. The SKYNET 5 PFI programme has been a huge operational success for the MoD, and has reduced or removed many of the technical and service risks, whilst ensuring unrivalled secure SATCOM communications to UK forces.

In more recent years, the quality of the information disseminated by modern mobile communications systems has been continually improved which resulted in timely and seamless decision processes, thus considerably reducing response times from hours to only a few minutes. As digitisation of the battlefield is currently being achieved under the umbrella of acronyms like NEC (Network Enabled Capability), NBD (Network Based Defence), NCW (Network Centric Warfare), or even NetOpFü (“Vernetzte Operationsführung”), many European NATO members are now beginning to invest in better ground communications assets. This includes real-time communications links which are being brought into service to achieve connectivity and interoperability across the traditional boundaries of land, air, and sea mission spaces.

Any of the current procurement programmes can be seen as the principal political/military decision aids to fully cope with the new operational requirements which are arising as a result of commercial, environmental, security, and terrorism concerns. At the present time, however, neither military communications infrastructures, nor network-centric concept designs are believed to be advanced to that extent to be able to achieve the widely addressed goal of a network centric warfare capability. While several European nations, including both France and Sweden, have taken an effects-oriented approach to implement advanced mobile communications, battle management systems (BMS), and both ground vehicles and future soldier systems, several others, like Germany, were forced to redefine their capability requirements in the face of tighter defence budgets.

Digital communications – their demand will increase massively

While the British Army’s BOWMAN programme will provide for the envisioned Army’s C4I capability for the next 30 years by replacing deficiency-laden Clansman combat radios and the Ptarmigan wider coverage area communications system with its Single Channel Radio Access (SCRA) sub-system, other European militaries like the Swedish Armed Forces have an increasing demand for high-capacity, wideband communications on the digital battlefield. The new software-defined radio (SDR) equipment foreseen for the Swedish Armed Forces will provide the flexibility of plug-in-play functionality. A series of planned projects will deepen waveform expertise on the Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) waveform demonstrator project through a unique joint effort with the US Armed Force’s Joint Tactical Radio System Joint Program Executive Office (JTRS JPEO). However, with Sweden adopted an incremental approach to achieve any of these goals, bilateral cooperation with the UK is also on the experience in working with the JTRS team on waveform development with TETRA and the BOWMAN very high-frequency waveform. But there is also some sort of cooperation with other European nations like France, Germany, Italy, and Spain which are the signatories to a letter of intent (LOI) on a common SDR system to harmonise military requirements from a European perspective.

Specifically affecting military needs, new SDR equipment, as cutting-edge, portable communications, enables the highest throughput rates for digital voice, data, video, and position location. SDR equipment can be utilised on diverse platforms while featuring interfaces to fixed networks such as ISDN, WAN, or LAN. A number of European NATO member states have SDR programmes in which man-pack variants figure strongly. Most of these, however, have yet to come close to fruition, leaving legacy multi-band radios to pick up the slack. Providing multiple waveforms across a wide frequency band in a single platform is a weight saving measure uniting the capabilities of several single-purpose radios in a single platform. Originally limited to use by Special Forces and specialist roles such as forward air control, these radios have now migrated to conventional forces. Reliable voice and data links are crucial for such missions both for the user’s own safety and for surveillance and management tasks characterised by a very high volume of information.

The industry made significant progress in providing communications equipment ranging from hand-held systems through vehicular and fixed radios. The leading manufacturers of SDR equipment are THALES Communications (offering the PR4G family of radios and the newer PR4G F@astnet), Harris Corporation (offering the Falcon III product line including the AN/PRC-117G multi-band, multi-mission, wideband SDR and the JTRS-approved AN/PRC-152(C) Type 1 multi-band, multi-mission, hand-held radio), ITT Corporation (offering the SpearHead 30 to 88MHz and SpearNet 1.2 to 1.4GHz radios), Cobham Defence Communications' (manufacturing the EAGLE Close Combat Radio), SELEX Communications (offering the CNR-2000 1.6 to 60MHz radio with embedded GPS, HF-to-HF/VHF-to-HF rebroadcast), and Rohde & Schwarz. The latter company is providing its R&S®M3TR family of SDRs which represent a new generation of affordable, high-performance digital radios designed for use with military and civilian radios/wave forms. In February 2009, Rohde & Schwarz has been contracted by the German BWB defence materiel procurement agency to develop a new-generation SDR for the German Bundeswehr's joint radio systems project. This project which is named “Streitkräftegemeinsame Verbundfähige Funkgeräteausstattung” or SVFuA in German Bundeswehr parlance, is an ambitious programme to bring in next-generation mobile radios to be deployed by all five military services of the Bundeswehr as self-organising, secure, mobile network nodes and terminals with programmable, adaptive narrow- and wideband waveforms.

Covering the whole spectrum ranging from the HF to the UHF band, the multi-role characteristics of the R&S®M3TR SDR are mainly determined by its ease of integration into tactical communications networks. Both, the HF/VHF MR3000H and the VHF/UHF MR3000U radios, have a common logistic approach. The HF/VHF MR3000H has a transmit range of 1.5MHz to 108MHz. The HF antenna is automatically tuned. The basic system utilises a 2.4 metres HF whip antenna with VHF in the man-portable role using either a short pole or 1.5 metres whip. Transmission is from 1W to 10W. The throughput rate is widely quoted at 3.6Kbps in HF (STANAG 4285) and 12.8Kbps in VHF (STANAG 4539). This can be extended to 64Kbps by using an Rohde & Schwarz proprietary mode. The other SDR, the MR3000U, offers much the same capabilities of the MR3000H variant, with its transmit range varying from 25MHz to 512MHz.

The latest member of the THALES PR4G family which is known as the PR4G F@astnet, only weighs 0.87kg and enables electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) against narrow- and broadband jammers. The PR4GF@stnet has been supplied to 37 international customers with roughly 125,000 units in service, with Poland representing the principal customer. The man-pack variant, designated RCC9211, has received procurement priority for France’s military deployment in Afghanistan, while Spain has recently opted for the F@STNET, with manufacturing being undertaken by the Spanish company Amper Programas. THALES’ 3000 or TRC 3700 HF radio is described as an SDR covering 1.5MHz to 30MHz in 100Hz steps. The radio is designed to seamlessly link with the company’s PR4G VHF messaging networks using IP routers as an integral part of the French MELCHIOR programme. THALES has been also cooperating with Rockwell Collins to develop the Flexnet family of SDRs. The Flexnet-Four SDR provides the military user with efficient tools to develop SCA (Software Communications Architecture)-compliant waveforms.

ITT's Communications Systems division bridges the data networking gap with Centaur’s High Capacity Data Radio (HCDR). This ad hoc system creates a self-forming, self-healing, self-managing adaptive mobile network. The HCDR is the only radio of its kind creating a communications backbone for messaging, internet and situation awareness supporting mission-critical on the move operations. This battleproven radio provides high-speed data information between maritime, ground forces, and air support. HCDR’s intelligent self-managing capability simplifies operations minimising the requirement for training.

For the Spanish Army's COMFUT programme, the Communications Division of ITT Corporation is providing its SpearNet Team member Radio as an integral part of the entire soldier system. SpearNet provides self-forming, self-healing ad-hoc networking with multi-hop routing of both voice and data capability. This makes it perfect for some of today's and tomorrow's toughest non-line-of-sight combat environments such as tunnels, ship cargo holds, fast moving vehicles, and buildings. According to ITT, the system enables the radio to gain extended range retransmitting a message over several radios in a "daisy chain."

The SpearNet radio is ITT's next-generation UHF radio. SpearNet’s mobile ad hoc network provides voice, integrated GPS with SA reporting, and data transfer (100 to 1500kbps) across dismounted networks spanning 6 kilometres. SpearNet includes SIP/VoIP for interconnection with telephone networks. SIP provides the ability, when connected with a backhaul capability such as SATCOM and a SIP server, for the deployed soldier to speak directly and securely with his in-country commanders. Also available are high speed data transfer (>1Mbps for video surveillance or mission plans) and selectable GPS position reporting. The SpearNet is a MANET radio which maximises net coverage at all times, especially in urban environments and conditions where normal one-hop/point-to-point radios are unable to maintain coherent network coverage.

The same company's SpearHead portable handheld tactical radio provides dismounted soldiers secure, frequency hopping voice, and packet data with integrated GPS in a small, lightweight package. Supporting full interoperability with the ITT SINCGARS RT-1702 communications system, the software-programmable advantage of SpearHead allows rapid deployment to military users who require varying features with different functional and operational needs. For this purpose, SpearHead employs proven ITT transmission and encryption security. Voice operations are supported by using an internal speaker and microphone or through the use of a range of attached audio ancillaries including a variety of headsets and handsets. IP-based data communications allow operation with a wide range of data ancillaries and provide full access to the tactical internet. The integrated GPS function includes local position displays, transparent secure position reporting to all net members, and display of received net member’s location. Position reports can also be automatically provided to attached data systems.

Designed initially as both a short-range squad radio and a wireless link to Cobham Defence Communications' own vehicle intercom system, the EAGLE Close Combat Radio has gone on to become a data bearer for the company's Integrated Digital Soldier System (IDSS) and an important element of Cobham's Maritime Interdiction Operations System (MIOS). Cobham Defence Communications is now working on enhancements to increase functionality and performance even further. Enhancements are being developed that are set to propel sales of the easy to use, low-cost EAGLE to the next level. These include the introduction of a rechargeable battery and vehicle charger, a simplified user programmable audio menu structure for basic users and improved data transmission that will make it even easier to integrate with the IDSS.

SELEX Communications product in this category is the CNR2000 family which represent a new lineage of HF/VHF (1.6MHz to 59.9750MHz) multi-band, multi-role, multi-function tactical radio communications transceivers embedded within a single package. Operation over the extended 1.6MHz to 59.9750MHz frequency range allows short, medium, and long haul communications over LOS, extended line-of-sight (ELOS)), and BLOS links with HF and VHF tactical radios.

Other European manufacturers include Kongsberg Defence & Arospace (KDA) from Norway, Telefunken RACOMS from Germay, and ASELSAN from Turkey, INTRACOM Defense Electronics from Greece, and Empresa de Investigação e Desenvolvimento de Electrónica S.A. (EID) from Portugal. Besides the ICC-201 radio, the latter manufacturer is producing, for utilisation by the Portuguese Army in Afghanistan, the multi-band PRC-525 radio. For this role, the radio set which is derived from the German R&S®M3TR SSR, has been added by a new Email software tool to enable different waveforms and the transmission of high-volume data of up to 72Kbps.

The Multi-Role Radio (MRR), developed by KDA, operates over 30MHz to 88MHz across 2,320 channels. Electronic protective measures include a patterned Narrow Band Direct Sequence (NBDS) spread spectrum in fixed frequency, multi-hop packet radio service with automatic routing and multi-path integration. Propagation of the MRR’s signal is improved by the use of NBDS technology. This enables the reception in very high noise environments. For integration with area communications, a mobile connection with a SCAR network can be established with the systems using a military enhanced X.25 protocol.

Telefunken RACOMS introduced the upgraded HRM7000 which is described by the company as being similar in capability to an SDR supporting a range of HF waveforms. Telefunken RACOMS has also demonstrated an HF surveillance solution employing an 8Kbps link to a video camera suing compression smarts from ED Research.

ASELSAN developed an SDR solution which is based on the VRC-9661 30MHz to 512MHz VHF/UHF radio. Currently, this radio is linked to a 10W/50W PA vehicle solution, but ASELSAN intends to switch to a “herk and jerk” solution in which two man-pack 9661 radios can be utilised within and without a vehicle. The new radio uses the new Advanced Networking Frequency Hopping waveform (ANFH). It offers 2.4Kbps MELP, vocoding, 9.6Kbps asynchronous, and 16Kbps synchronous, half-duplex secure data.

INTRACOM Defense Electronics licence-produces the TRC 9210 VHF/FM frequency hopping man-pack transceiver which forms part of the PR4G family of transceivers. The embedded TRANSEC/COMSEC module offers high security digital encryption. Voice and data are encrypted to avoid any listening-in or intrusion in the network traffic. Fast frequency hopping (several hundreds hops per second) is believed to be the best answer to detection, localisation, and follower jammers. All digital operating modes provide that the network is being protected from being analysed with respect to the structure of the transmitted signal and also prevents the extraction of information about the mission of the specific network. By use of an optional board which provides an IP interface (PPP or Ethernet 10 base T), the TRC 9210 offers a fast rate packet mode over IP for message routing and simplified connectivity to battlefield computers.

It is the capability which is important

Among several new ground forces communications programmes in Europe, the British Army’s BOWMAN programme is a fresh appeal to the requirements of wireless point-to-point communications on the tomorrow’s digitised battlefield. Although somewhat in trouble in recent months following the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee’s intervention on the radio kit’s difficulty to fit into British Army vehicles, BOWMAN will be able to pave the way for the envisioned Army’s C4I capability for the next 30 years and put the NEC vision into action. The committee found that the BOWMAN digital radios lack the interoperability necessary to enable soldiers to communicate with allies, thus exacerbating the risk of friendly-fire incidents. The essential ingredients to military tactical communications networks in NEC are SDR equipment, portable notebook computers, and internet-based information technologies. They will be able to provide the forward-deployed infantryman in an all-digitised battlefield with an enhanced situational awareness.

The new equipment for BOWMAN will include various equipment, at both HF and VHF which will be capable of enabling section level communications and a variety of communications modes. Among them are VHF sets such as ITT Corporations' UK/PRC355 man-pack, UK/PRC356 man-pack, UK/VRC357 vehicle clip-in radio, UK/VRC358 low-power, vehicle-mounted radio, and UK/VRC359 vehicle-mounted, high-power radio. Other equipment will involve user data services, lightweight portable notebook computers based on COTS hardware and software components, the tactical internet, and Automatic Position Location Navigation & Reporting (APLNR) functions through either portable man-pack or mounted man-pack role radios. Fully interoperable with NATO forces, BOWMAN communications will be fitted to over 22,800 ground vehicles, 130 naval vessels, and 230 aircraft.

Meanwhile, the French Army is seeing its principal network-enabled capabilities in the acquisition of new combat radio equipment to be delivered by a SAGEM-led industrial consortium for its Fantassin à Equipements et Liaisons Intégrés (FÉLIN) programme. To eventually add to the capability of its ageing but recently upgraded THALES Poste de Radio de 4ème Génération (PR4G) combat radio equipment (which is the backbone of the Army’s tactical network), the French Army is in the process of acquiring new-generation combat radios to enhance the capabilities of the individual infantryman in future joint warfare.

For the moment, the French Army is testing a prototype high data-rate radio developed by THALES Communications. The company has been developing both land and naval variants of the Demonstrateur Radio Haut Debit (DRHD) transceiver. The new system could improve point-to-point and multipoint communications between tactical operations centres (TOCs), providing a backbone for linking tactical networks into wide-area systems. The French Army makes extensive use of RITA-type wide-area networks for formation command purposes. A key function of the new DRHD will be to provide links between regiment and brigade command centres installed in mobile armoured vehicles, with the demonstrator system employing THALES’ high-rate waveforms and hardware operating in two frequency ranges (UHF 225 to 400MHz and SHF 1.5 to 5GHz). A definitive operational system then could also involve a combination of SATCOM and high-date rate radio equipment. Significantly, the THALES platform will be compliant with the US JTRS SCA.

Battlefield digitisation is also affecting the German Armed Forces which see net-centric warfare or Vernetzte Operationsführung (NetOpFü) as the key development to cope with the increasing need for jointness and multinational or joint operations. The overall transformation also affects in-service communications architectures and the requirement for more sophisticated systems. Since its introduction into German troops in Afghanistan, the Army’s FAUST-E1 C2 system utilised digital tactical radio equipment (SEM93 VHF 16kbit/s vehicle transceiver) and an additional space for either TETRAPOL Public Mobile Radio (PMR) equipment or a GSM (Global Systems Mobile) telephone handset which can be interfaced outside the coverage of military tactical networks. The FAUST C3I system has been installed in command posts and in a variety of wheeled and tracked vehicles, providing a complete common operational land picture. It will now be replaced by the German Army's new C3I system called “Führungsinformationssytem Heer” (FüInfoSys Heer). FAUST E1 was employed with the battalion-size Battle Group West in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, supporting all functions for enhanced situational awareness, Blue Force tracking, communications, administration, and secure exchange of messages. Standalone TETRAPOL communications networks were also delivered by EADS Defence & Security to French and Italian ground troops operating in the Kosovo.

However...

Mobile communications devices (SDRs, smart phones, PDA/Personal Digital Assistant) have undergone dramatic growth in recent years. Physical improvements such as increased bandwidths or reduced vulnerabilities against hostile actions were found to be beneficial in training exercises and under real battlefield conditions to the array of recent combat missions. The bottom line is that networked operations which are highly dependent upon those systems, will enable individual force elements to identify a target, relay the target’s information to the right command and control headquarters, thus allowing a more rapid sharing of information to act and react to threats, although sceptics rigorously argued about the interoperability problems which were likely seen to be somewhat endemic within several European digitisation programmes. Systems like BOWMAN will significantly enhance ground communications which will be in support of Predictive Battlespace Awareness (PBA) through the use of advanced sensors and the rapid distribution of information to each position within a theatre of operation. These systems are also seen as important pre-requisites for an increased superiority in weapons systems efficacy on the tomorrow’s battlefield.

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