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Future U.S. Army Radios Again Battle in the Desert

Dec. 15, 2012 - 04:44PM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
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Now that the U.S. Army’s long-awaited Capability Set 13 is in the hands of two brigade combat teams from the 10th Mountain Division preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, the service is beginning to build out the radio and communication technologies that will be included in Capability Set 14, scheduled to be delivered in 2014.

The problem, however, is that the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division was forced to take the field for the fourth Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in October and November without a key piece of planned equipment for the CS14 package: the Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio (MNVR), the projected replacement for the canceled Ground Mobile Radio.

To compensate, the Army equipped two of the three participating maneuver battalions with “surrogate” radios, since industry won’t deliver MNVR variants before the next NIE, scheduled for May, in response to a request for proposals that came out on Aug. 28.

One battalion was outfitted with Raytheon’s Maingate two-channel radio and one with the Harris 117G two-channel radio. The third brigade functioned without a satellite communications capability so evaluators could study the effect this has on combined operations.

Col. Rob Carpenter, director of the Army’s System of Systems Integration office (SoSI), said one outcome of the evaluation is that the service confirmed the networking and communications capabilities provided by the two-channel radios are “a capability there that we need to pursue as an Army.”

The MNVR request for proposals calls for a two-year contract that could be worth as much as $140 million. Teams poised to compete include General Dynamics, Harris, Raytheon, BAE Systems and ITT Exelis.

While the Harris radio already performs the MNVR role in Capability Set 13, Raytheon’s Maingate radio — currently deployed in Afghanistan with U.S. forces — is actually ineligible for the contract under the RfP’s language. The Army wants its MNVR solution to use the Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) along with the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW), whereas Maingate uses the government-owned Next-Generation Mobile Ad-Hoc Networking Waveform.

The waveform was accepted into the Pentagon’s Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) library in April. The Harris radio used the Harris Adaptive Networking Wideband Waveform, which is certified to work with the JTRS family of radios.

Still, Raytheon hopes that its radio’s performance will win over the Army. George Vardakas, director of Army/Air Force satcom programs, said in a statement that Maingate “used a minimal amount of spectrum to support voice, data, and full motion video for 40 nodes. It spanned 13 different platform types, making it the largest and most diverse mobile mid-tier network ever deployed during an NIE.”

Carpenter said that even with the surrogate radios, the MNVR competition is being informed by the work at White Sands.

“We’re determining what the constants of the network are,” he said.

The latest NIE also expanded its reach to an “excursion” at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to evaluate BAE’s Phoenix SC two-channel radio, which will also compete.

Christopher Ager, director of the company’s Networked Communication Systems office, said they are “on track” to achieve a JTRS compliance rating-based lab testing.

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