PART I - Meeting the Warfighter's C4ISR Needs: Advanced Communications Networks, Software Defined Radios and Network Centric Warfare
Are we ready to confront the difficult programmatic, technological and affordability challenges to equip the warfighter with the right hardware and software solutions they need to effectively conduct their missions?
Defining Warfighter Needs in a Challenging Electro-Political Environment
If we have learned any lessons from military operations in Iraq and Afganistan, including operations around the world as part of the global war on terrorism, it’s the compelling need for a robust C4ISR capability for our warfighters. We have seen the impact of advanced RF and microwave technology in sensors, precision weapons and tactical communications. Force protection has become greatly improved with smart IED Jammers with GaN amplifiers and battlefield commanders have enhanced situational awareness capabilities delivered to their command posts through critical data links, radio hops and meshed networks. UAVs are flown in theater from bases in the continental U.S., controlled and commanded through advanced satellite communication networks and remotely located R/T terminal systems. These unmanned weapons systems, such as Predator and Reaper, engage in precision strikes of lethal force against our adversaries across the globe. However, we are in the midst of a transformational time now in defense guidance, planning and budgeting. Going forward, the Pentagon must now factor in major trends that are likely to shape the national security environment in a slightly different manner than we all are accustomed to thinking about, including many that might defy traditional military planning. According to Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn, “Since 9/11, we have had the ability to address new defense challenges with increased resources. We will not have that luxury for the foreseeable future. What we need to do at this juncture, in this fiscal environment, is to take the long view about what strategic trends are important.” He went on to say, “As a nation we must accept the challenges to navigate the current fiscal circumstances without disrupting the capabilities of the world’s most effective military force, the U.S. military.” And it is in this context we must, as a nation, make the right judgments today about the complex nature of our future security environment, so as to invest in the right capabilities that address the technology trends we will need in C4ISR in future asymmetric warfare.
And as RF and microwave engineers, our challenge must be to continue to find ways to adapt our technology for C4ISR systems, as our adversary’s threats evolve and mature. If we do these things, I believe that we will ensure our forces are ready for the future of warfare. It is very clear that the U.S. military will need, in the future, more equipment like advanced sensors, networked hardware, helicopter, vehicle and aircraft jammers and smaller/more lethal unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems to counter threats to its troops. This is against a backdrop of the Obama administration planning to cut troops in Afghanistan by a third by 2012, and exit from Iraq by the end of this year. The U.S. will have to continue to keep an eye on what is occurring in these countries. So, we will have to continue to invest in C4ISR and intelligence gathering equipment to complement the decrease in actual forces on the ground. So in this article, I want to present a quick and broadly based view of some of the key programs and systems that enable our military’s advanced communications networks, software defined radios and network centric warfare capabilities.
The Army 2012 Modernization Plan: C4ISR Remains a Top Priority
The Army has recently released its new Modernization Plan 2012, providing a comprehensive look at how its fiscal 2012 budget will support key priorities, such as maintaining a flexible force and meeting full-spectrum needs of modern, multifaceted warfare. C4ISR is a key aspect of this Modernization Plan. Along with agility, other goals include maximizing resources amid dwindling funds, modernizing the way the Army trains its forces and the integration across the board. It also takes a close look at major programs to scrutinize spending. “In building an agile force, able to quickly respond to change in operational environments and against a variety of possible adversaries, we must make the best possible use of our fiscal resources. No significant capabilities decision will be made without a thorough review of costs, projected benefits and the trade-offs to pay for it,” Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, Army Deputy Chief of Staff, stated in a memo accompanying the plan. The plan stresses the need for versatility provided by an Army that is adaptable, expansible and networked, according to the document, which also recognizes the demand for affordability. The equipment fielded to soldiers, and supporting policies, must also be adaptable and anticipatory of future requirements. The need for full-spectrum capabilities that can tackle both current and future needs is also discussed throughout the modernization plan. According to the plan, the Army aims to meet full-spectrum needs by taking advantage of mature technologies, shortening timelines for developing and fielding equipment, and constantly working to improve and build on existing technologies while divesting those considered obsolete or unnecessary. It also emphasizes an incremental approach to technology development and deployment. The plan identifies seven major programs as critical to success in fiscal 2012:
- Joint Tactical Radio System
- Warfighter Information Network-Tactical
- Ground Combat Vehicle
- Distributed Common Ground System-Army
- Joint Battle Command-Platforms
- Paladin Integrated Management
- Kiowa Warrior
The Army hopes its plans for modernization will help bring balance back to a force stressed and worn thin by 10 years of war, the document states. For nearly a decade, the Army has been operating at a tremendous pace, and the demand for fully equipped forces has stressed our ability to meet the demand for much of this period. The result was a fully committed Army out of balance with little strategic flexibility to respond to other contingencies, the document reads. The Army is making significant progress toward balancing the force and with the continued support of Congress and believes it is are on track to meet its goals for restoring balance.
A View from DC: Political Maneuverings on C4ISR
Sometimes in Washington, things come out of the blue and land right on your head like a ton of bricks. And that was the case for JTRS Ground Mobile Radios in a recent Congressional action. The Senate Armed Services Committee chopped $200 M from the requested $775.8 M budget for Joint Tactical Radio System/GMRs in its version of the 2012 Defense Authorization bill. The committee said it cut the JTRS budget because it looks like the cost of the ground mobile radios had grown by 25 percent over original estimates and low rate production will likely slip another six months. Pentagon go-ahead for production of the maritime radio has slipped until next September and a contract award is not expected until 2013, the committee said. While this is only the first of at least eight Congressional steps before it potentially becomes law, it clearly is a shot across the bow of the JTRS program. Ongoing efficiency efforts started by Secretary of Defense Gates will benefit troops on the ground, especially when it comes to C4ISR and Acquisition Reform. That’s because reform efforts envisioned by DoD leadership typically involve delivering technology in smaller, more frequent increments. So driving those efficiencies and finding ways to get those technologies deployed more rapidly and in a cost-efficient manner all contribute to supporting the warfighter. Besides aiding the DoD's mission, acquisition reform could also benefit taxpayers because an incremental approach to buying can help get more bang for the buck. The agile nature of identifying what we want to buy and buying in smaller pieces allows the DoD to procure more effectively. To start reaping the benefits of acquisition reform, the government must get serious about implementing change and catching up to the speed of technology. And Congress must do its part by improving the funding process. It has been said we have an 18th- and 19th-century budgetary process in a 21st-century Information Age that moves at the speed of light. From my engineering point of view, that is an “impedance mismatch” that must be addressed.
Service and DoD Policy Changes for Affordability in C4ISR: U.S. Army and U.S. Navy
The Army is working to drive productivity growth, maximize efficiency and eliminate redundancy on its C4ISR programs through an approach called "Should-Cost/Will-Cost" management, according to service officials. The push to implement the new approach to acquisition came as guidance from Dr. Ashton Carter, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. The "Should-Cost/Will-Cost" approach is grounded in an effort to lower costs and improve affordability within acquisition programs by increasing scrutiny and targeting areas of potential cost reduction. Carter's guidance to the services stresses the need to reduce overhead costs where possible and increase the measure of analysis given to programs. Along with mandating affordability and establishing a "Should-Cost" management approach, additional elements of the Army effort to implement Carter's guidance include initiatives to eliminate redundancy within warfighter portfolios, make production rates more stable and economical and set shorter timelines to manage programs.
The Navy is developing new strategies for acquiring C4ISR defense capabilities. The problem is that the Defense department’s existing acquisition model — DoD 5000 — is ill-equipped to meet the fast-moving needs of C4ISR. “DoD 5000 doesn’t work for C4ISR and Cyber defense,” said Kevin McNally, the Navy's Program Manager for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity. “It’s built for the acquisition of ships; full operational capability can take seven years. C4ISR and Cyber-attack tools progress far more rapidly than that.” The new Navy acquisition approach would allow the Navy to work in six-month increments of spiral development, with multiple efforts working in parallel. A group composed of key Naval departments will meet periodically to assess progress, identify new threats and re-evaluate needs every six months looking at requirements, defenses and tools. The Navy is also implementing DoD’s broader acquisition reform efforts, but is taking a proactive approach with the new measures. For now, the Navy is looking forward to some of the advantages of its new approach, such as being better able to keep up with technology, introducing new commercial products more quickly and closing in on evolving threats.
U.S. Army Expectations on C4ISR at Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) Test
The U.S. Army is conducting a very comprehensive test of its C4ISR capabilities at White Sands called Network Integration Evaluation (NIE). At the heart of the exercise is an overarching effort to develop a single battlefield network able to push key information to the soldier, linking them to command posts, vehicles on-the-move and higher headquarters. The idea is to use the best available technologies to move information, voice, video, data and images faster, further and more efficiently across the force. "The network will literally redefine how we fight," said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli. "Ultimately, the network will connect leaders, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at all levels, at every echelon of command, in any formation and across the entire team, with the right information quickly and seamlessly. I am confident it will make our various formations more lethal, faster and more survivable in today's battlefield."
Central to the NIE is the continued evaluation of non-proprietary high bandwidth waveforms such as Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Wideband Networking Waveform. These use a larger portion of the available spectrum than legacy waveforms to move voice, video, images and data in real-time across multiple nodes in the force. The waveforms, and indeed many of the technologies, are designed with standards aimed at meeting the needs of all the services in order to accommodate the potential for joint service involvement in the network. "We're working very close with partners up at Office of the Secretary of Defense in laying this out," Chiarelli said. “I've invited them all [other services] out to see what we're doing. I see this evolving very, very quickly into a test-bed that can be used not just by the Army but by all services." Overall, the technologies being evaluated include a wide range of capabilities, such as software programmable radio, satellites, sensors and smart phones. The programs undergoing formal LUTs include:
- The Joint Tactical Radio Systems, Handheld Manpack Small Form Fit, or HMS, is a multi-channel, soldier-mounted software-programmable radio able to transmit voice, video, data and images using high band-width waveforms such as SRW
- The Joint Capabilities Release, or JCR, is the next-generation software for Force Battle Command Brigade and below, or FBCB2, display screens, featuring Army/Marine Corps interoperability and advanced mapping tool kits
- The Mounted Soldier System, or MSS, is a combat-vehicle soldier ensemble that integrates advanced gear, such as a helmet-mounted display and body cooling devices
- The Network Integration Kit, which is a vehicle-mounted communications and computing hub
- The SPIDER remote munitions delivery system.
The NIE provides Army testers and program managers the advantage of assessing how new and emerging technologies work in relation to one another from a system-of-systems perspective. The NIE is aimed at refining the acquisition of new technologies and blending programs of record with commercial, off-the-shelf solutions as part of a process designed to keep pace with rapid technological change, Army leaders explained.
The Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) Test: Waveforms, Network on the Move and Software Defined Radios
About 3,800 members of the Army’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, were recently in the harsh mountain and desert environment around White Sands Missile Range, N.M., rubbing blown sand “out of their eyes and their shorts” and staying hydrated. It was their job to test some of the crown jewels of the Army’s next-generation communications and network systems, particularly the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) and Handheld, Man pack, Small Form Fit (HMS) radio. Both radio programs are undergoing key Limited User Tests (LUTs) at White Sands Missile Range this summer as part of the Army's Network Integration Evaluation (NIE). However, the real crown jewels are the waveforms that reside on the radios, particularly the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW), both of which have already been deemed objective waveforms for the Army. This summer’s LUTs are less about the formal programs of record, less about the contracts, and less about the providers. More importantly, it is about finally getting those waveforms matured so they can be ported to hardware agnostic radios that can be procured through open competitions with industry. If they can get the waveforms right, it will lead directly to driving cost out of the JTRS program, and lead to the new way of doing business the Army has been talking about for the last couple years.
NIE, which kicked off recently at White Sands Missile Range, will evaluate capabilities of a developmental vehicle mounted company command post system intended to give enhanced on- the-move networking to company commanders. Keeping a mobile commander well informed can be tough. Communications trouble, both technical and environmental in nature, can cause a leader at any level to not feel he has enough information to make the right decision. In combat, this lack of information is so common it’s earned itself the name “fog of war.” A key portion of the NIE will take a look at collapsing networked battle and mission command capabilities into mobile company command post platforms. This may give company commanders the ability to take advanced network technology with them as they move around the battlespace. They will no longer need to be tied to a static location to receive mission command information, according to U.S. Army Program Executive Office Integration (PEO-I), one of the offices involved in the evaluations.
The NIE will bring together several different sets of communications equipment that’s expected to allow for better communications among soldiers. The test will also see a newly networked vehicle, such as Strykers and MRAPs, rolling through the range’s rough deserts and giving the commanders on the ground more information than they previously had. The company command vehicles are specially equipped and loaded with communications and display gear intended to give the company commander access to the same kind of information normally only available in a command tent. If the evaluations go well for this concept, it could end up being huge for the Army, giving that small unit commander the mobility that he needs to move around his area of operations. A key software-based radio under evaluation at NIE, the HMS, is a variant of the JTRS. JTRS is a more than decade-old program to develop a family of radios for all three military services. HMS, developed by General Dynamics, uses software to manage both voice and data transmissions, and recent preliminary reports from the first six weeks of tests indicates it takes more than one minute for the radio to boot up to handle a voice call, well above the tolerance level of soldiers in combat who need to communicate quickly.
Evaluation of another JTRS radio, the GMR, could determine its fate. In tests last June, the GMR had a 72 percent failure rate, and this April, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems (SPAWAR) Command, which supports the JTRS program office, put out a notice to industry seeking commercial alternatives. The Army wants to use the GMR to transmit broadband data over the battlefield using a software-based wideband networking waveform. Sgt. David Johnson, an infantryman who helps manage the systems installed in the Alpha Company command post in a mountaintop aerie more than 1000 feet above the desert floor, said during evaluation the GMR has "worked wonderfully," with 90 percent to 95 percent reliability in the wideband mode.
Radios Tested at NIE: Harris AN/PRC-117
Among the various prototype systems being evaluated is a new, but battle-tested radio. The AN/PRC-117G, manufactured by Harris Corp., is playing an important role in the NIE by serving as the communication backbone system for new communications waveforms. The AN/PRC-117G is a multiband radio capable of running all of the Army’s multiband waveforms, such as the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System and UHF Tactical Satellite (TACSAT) communications system. For the NIE, the radio is running the Harris-developed Advanced Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2), said Dennis Moran, Vice President of Government Business Development for Harris’ RF Communications division. The goal of the network evaluation is to validate that the AN/PRC-117G can scale up the ANW2 waveform to support the Army’s future communications needs. More than 50 of the radios are at White Sands Missile Range. Of those, most are being used in a 30-node configuration supporting a battalion’s communications network. One of the capabilities of the latest release of the ANW2 waveform is the ability to support a 30-node network, which provides commanders with more flexibility in the field. The remaining radios allow the network to scale up to the brigade level.
One of the key waveforms being tested at the NIE is the Wideband Networking Waveform, which is run on JTRS GMR systems, Moran said. Harris is scheduled to run the WNW on the AN/PRC-117G in about 18 months, which tracks closely with the Army’s plan to have a GMR alternative for the 2013-2014 capability set. The Harris radios have been installed in Abrams tanks, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles and Bradley fighting vehicles being used in the exercise. Although they are vehicle-mounted, the radios are in a “pull-and-go” configuration that allows troops to remove the radio, attach a battery and antenna, and go into the field. This is often done by U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, where the radios are mounted in MRAPs. When a company or platoon dismounts to patrol an Afghan village, they pull the radio so that they will have all of the applications with them. That’s the beauty of the 117G in its vehicular configuration, according to the U.S. Army.
Testing it Right: Radio Evaluation and Analysis LAB (REAL) Testing
The Defense department and the Army have high hopes for a new laboratory designed to speed the testing and deployment of military radios and related command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment and software. The mission of REAL, located at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in MD, and managed by the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), is to help the service and the DoD make smarter decisions when selecting commercial and government radios and equipment. The lab is part of the Army’s agile process, which seeks to speed and streamline the acquisition of C4ISR equipment.
To facilitate realistic testing, the heart of REAL is the radio frequency attenuation network, a system designed to simulate realistic field conditions for multiple radios. The radio’s antenna feeds are plugged into the matrix, which can emulate movement and loss of signal due to buildings, terrain and foliage. The laboratory has two matrices capable of testing 40 radios. A third matrix is being acquired that will allow the lab to simultaneously test up to 60 radios. In addition to radios, the matrix can test the underlying network aspects for network operations, network management systems and information assurance capabilities. The matrix can also simulate operational traffic, run recordings of actual captured network traffic from real exercises, and test cellular networks. The laboratory also has routers to run C4ISR applications, such as the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and below system and Command Post of the Future on the network. The laboratory has already helped evaluate Harris AN/PRC-117G wideband tactical radios running the latest version of the Advanced Ad Hoc Networking Wideband Waveform for use in the current NIE. The old version of the waveform supported 10 to 15 nodes, but the new version handles up to 30 nodes. The laboratory worked with Harris to test and debug the new waveforms before their deployment to Fort Bliss, Newman said.
Cognitive Radios: A Smart Radio for a Smart Warfighter
A prototype radio technology might make military bandwidth allocation issues a thing of the past. Known as cognitive radio, it uses a set of algorithms to scan the spectrum for empty spots to transmit into. These smart handsets would allow warfighters to communicate in crowded radio environments without having to manually preset their equipment to specific frequencies. Developed by xG Technology Inc., the cognitive radio system, known as xMax is undergoing evaluation by the Army during its Network Integration Exercises under way at Fort Bliss, TX, and nearby White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The core of the radio is built around spectrum-agnostic dynamic spectrum access. The devices are aware of the surrounding radio environment and access unused slots of spectrum within the range that it is assigned to operate in. xG radios use six separate algorithms to measure different aspects of the spectrum, cataloging the areas where it can best operate. The radio then transmits data packets into the unused frequency zones between other transmissions. The company has staff and equipment at Fort Bliss to support the Army during the NIE. Equipment currently consists of software, handheld phones and a commercial base station loaded onto a pickup truck. This includes the software and the cognitive capability transition hardware to form factors, such as smart phones and handheld radios. xG technology has been in development for a decade. Until recently, it was mostly focused on the civilian market. The company originally planned to build the entire system from the handset up, but it soon plans to shift to providing a software application that can be loaded onto any handheld radio or smart phone.
Although the company name and technology are also similar to a project run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, xG Technologies has never shared intellectual data or technical expertise with DARPA. Both the Army and DARPA are keenly interested in cognitive radio and have other continuing research programs to develop the capability, but xG’s technology is more mature and ready for field tests. Long-term plans for the company call for moving the cognitive technology currently found in the handsets across the entire network. This complies with the Army’s goal of being able to purchase any handsets and tablet computers off the shelf to meet its needs. To meet this requirement, the first thing on xG’s development road map is to deliver a MyFi device, a small portable Wi-Fi hot spot ruggedized for military use. The device is not intended as an end-state product, but it is a progression toward such a device. Besides delivering the xMod device, the network will be increased beyond voice and text to deliver data. This prototype set of equipment is planned to be fielded in the August-September timeframe. This new equipment will also begin the firm’s transition to a cognitive network instead of just smart handsets. Instead of building handsets, the firm with make an application that can be loaded onto a smart device that will allow the Wi-Fi router in the device to operate on the xMax network.
This is the first part of an article summarizing what is going on in the world of C4ISR needs and the programs addressing them. RF and microwave engineers and their companies can and will play key roles enabling advanced communications networks, software defined radios and network centric warfare capabilities. This market space is moving very rapidly and there are many opportunities for companies involved in the area.