U.S. Army Rangers test new software-defined radio

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Reg­i­ment in Afghanistan recent­ly com­plet­ed an oper­a­tional assess­ment of the soft­ware-pro­gram­ma­ble Joint Tac­ti­cal Radio Sys­tems, or JTRS, Rifle­man Radio. The assess­ment high­light­ed the radio’s abil­i­ty to share com­bat-rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion, voice and data across small units in real time.

A mem­ber of the 75th Ranger Reg­i­ment in Afghanistan wears the JTRS Rifle­man Radio. The Rangers recent­ly com­plet­ed an oper­a­tional assess­ment of the soft­ware-pro­gram­ma­ble Joint Tac­ti­cal Radio Sys­tems.
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“We have just entered the era of the net­worked Sol­dier,” said Col. John Zavarel­li, pro­gram man­ag­er, Joint Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office, or JPEO JTRS, Hand­held Man­pack Small. “The indi­vid­ual rifle­man now has a game-chang­ing capa­bil­i­ty.”

The Oper­a­tional Assess­ment marked the first for­mal com­bat use of the sin­gle-chan­nel, soft­ware-defined Rifle­man Radio, which uses Sol­dier Radio Wave­form, or SRW, a high band­width wave­form which draws upon a larg­er part of the avail­able spec­trum com­pared to lega­cy radios to share infor­ma­tion and “net­work” forces.

Rifle­man Radio is part of a fam­i­ly of soft­ware-pro­gram­ma­ble JTRS radios, which make use of NSA-cer­ti­fied encryp­tion to safe­guard and trans­mit infor­ma­tion. The radios are built to send pack­ets of data, voice, video and images via mul­ti­ple wave­forms between sta­t­ic com­mand cen­ters, vehi­cles on-the-move and even dis­mount­ed indi­vid­ual Sol­diers on patrol.

The oper­a­tional assess­ment of Rifle­man Radio is part of an over­all acqui­si­tion strat­e­gy aimed at rapid­ly and effec­tive­ly har­ness­ing Sol­dier feed­back as a vital ele­ment of pro­cure­ment and tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment efforts, said Brig. Gen. Michael Williamson, Joint Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Offi­cer, JTRS.

“This is a near per­fect exam­ple of how ear­ly engage­ment by the warfight­er work­ing close­ly with the PM and the acqui­si­tion com­mu­ni­ty can deliv­er capa­bil­i­ty smarter and faster,” said Williamson. “There was a tremen­dous amount of work done by the pro­gram man­ag­er, the Rangers and the acqui­si­tion lead­er­ship with­in the DOD and the Army to achieve this mile­stone.”

The gen­er­al said the Rangers spent a lot of time using the radios and “clear­ly had a sig­nif­i­cant lev­el of con­fi­dence” in the sys­tem. Rangers liked the size, weight and pow­er of the Rifle­man Radio, which pro­vid­ed a bat­tery life of up to ten hours and increased the units’ abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate despite obsta­cles such as build­ings and near­by ter­rain.

The elite Ranger unit, which out­fit­ted mul­ti­ple pla­toons with the Rifle­man Radio while con­duct­ing var­i­ous tac­ti­cal mis­sions in Afghanistan, indi­cat­ed that the sys­tems great­ly assist­ed their unit’s abil­i­ty to exchange key infor­ma­tion such as posi­tion loca­tion infor­ma­tion faster, fur­ther and more effi­cient­ly across the force, Zavarel­li said.

“Com­mu­ni­ca­tions were effec­tive and reli­able,” Zavarel­li said. “Team lead­ers and squad lead­ers ben­e­fit­ted from the posi­tion loca­tion infor­ma­tion because of the infor­ma­tion car­ried by the SRW wave­form.”

Rifle­man Radio and SRW allowed the Ranger units to estab­lish a mobile, ad-hoc net­work. Using that net­work, squad lead­ers, com­man­ders and dis­mount­ed infantry shared and viewed mis­sion essen­tial infor­ma­tion using small, hand-held, end-user devices with dis­play screens. The devices dis­played dig­i­tal maps that allowed users to view sur­round­ing ter­rain and to also locate near­by friend­ly forces, Zavarel­li explained.

“The Rangers felt the radio was very effec­tive for con­duct­ing infantry oper­a­tions, espe­cial­ly at the small unit lev­el,” Zavarel­li said. “Rifle­man Radio allowed them to exe­cute mis­sions very rapid­ly because they had an improved aware­ness of where they were in rela­tion to sur­round­ing troops. Mis­sion Com­mand deci­sions were achieved faster.”

Using the soft­ware pro­gram­ma­ble Rifle­man Radio and SRW, the Rangers were able to “net­work ” voice, data and infor­ma­tion across deploy­ing units in aus­tere envi­ron­ments, with­out need­ing to rely upon a “fixed” infra­struc­ture or GPS sys­tem to com­mu­ni­cate across the unit while on the move.

“With the SRW net­work­ing wave­form all you have to do is get to the next node,” Zavarel­li said. “The wave­form that we were using is crit­i­cal to bend­ing around cor­ners. Instead of hav­ing to push through obsta­cles you just have to hop to the next node. They were in a sit­u­a­tion where the net­work­ing func­tion worked well for them.”

The suc­cess of this Rifle­man Radio Oper­a­tional Assess­ment, which includ­ed 125 radios, is expect­ed to inform ongo­ing JPEO JTRS, Army and U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand con­sid­er­a­tions regard­ing planned future deploy­ments of the radio. In fact, fur­ther devel­op­ment of the JTRS Rifle­man Radio is being great­ly assist­ed by feed­back from Army Rangers who used the device in the­ater.

Over­all, incor­po­rat­ing feed­back from the Rangers is con­sis­tent with the aims of the Army’s ongo­ing bi-annu­al Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tions, which are geared toward iden­ti­fy­ing, inte­grat­ing and assess­ing capa­bil­i­ty, sys­tems and tech­nolo­gies for Sol­diers before they are sent to the­ater, Williamson explained.

Plac­ing a pre­mi­um upon Sol­dier feed­back is a key ele­ment of the Army’s “agile process” approach to acqui­si­tion, which seeks to expe­dite devel­op­ment and deliv­ery of emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies by eval­u­at­ing them in tac­ti­cal­ly-rel­e­vant, com­bat-like sce­nar­ios such as the NIE.

Ulti­mate­ly, the Army plans to broad­ly deploy the JTRS Rifle­man Radio across the entire force.

(Kris Osborn writes for the Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of the Army for Acqui­si­tion, Logis­tics and Tech­nol­o­gy.)

U.S. Army

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