By this fall, two U.S. Army brigades in Afghanistan will be equipped with the latest suite of communications gear. Here, a US soldier calls for close-air support in Afghanistan. (Defense Department)
WASHINGTON — Just when you thought the Radio Wars had quieted down, they’ve start right back up again.
On Aug. 16, the U.S. Army released a draft request for proposals for the critical Rifleman Radio program, which is the handheld radio system used by dismounted soldiers to connect to the burgeoning Army network in order to push data, text, pictures and videos back and forth between higher headquarters and soldiers on the move.
The draft, which was published on a government contracting website, said that the service has planned a Rifleman Radio Industry Day for Sept. 5 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and that a contract award is expected in fiscal 2014.
While the service has already purchased 13,000 Rifleman radios from General Dynamics and Thales — and the system is being used by troops in Afghanistan — the government has said that the intent of the competition is to help to drive down costs as well as the size and weight of the current system, while increasing power.
In a statement, Col. Russ Wygal, the Army’s project manager for tactical radios, said “we absolutely encourage all vendors to participate and look forward to seeing the new and innovative ways they can meet this vital network requirement.”
In keeping with its new strategy to constantly refresh programs in order to take advantage of the latest technologies, the Army, after the award is made next year for the radio, said it plans to conduct “a follow-on competition within the next three to five years for the next generation of the radio.”
Rifleman radios have already been fielded to two brigade combat teams (BCTs) of the 10th Mountain Division as part of the Army’s much-touted Capability Set 13 program. The 4th BCT deployed to Afghanistan this summer to conduct an advise-and-assist mission with the Afghan National Army, and the 3rd BCT is scheduled to follow them this fall.
Along with GD, Harris Corp. is known to be in the running for the latest award, offering its RF-330E-TR Wideband Team Radio to the Army for consideration.
By competing the contract, Wygal said “a competitive approach will ensure that we continue to procure improved products, and do it in a way that makes smart business sense for the Army.”
In addition to the Rifleman contract, the Army is also preparing to conduct a full and open competition for the handheld and vehicle-mounted Manpack radio, with a contract award expected in fiscal 2014.
Schedule slippages have already barred the General Dynamics-made Manpack radios from heading to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division units this year. Instead, soldiers have received Falcon III 117G radios made by Harris.
While competitors will have to wait until next year to find out about the Rifleman and Manpack contracts, the Army has said it plans to award a contract in September for the SRW Appliqué program, a single-channel, vehicle-mounted system that allows the dismounted soldier to send and receive text and data from higher headquarters.
But in order to get the system into the hands of soldiers as fast as possible, in May the Army awarded GD a $7.6 million contract for 287 sensitive but unclassified Appliqué systems, followed in July by a $4.3 million deal with Harris for 119 Secret Appliqué systems.
All of these radio systems are being designed to work within the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical communications network the Army is fielding, of which the capability sets are a critical piece for soldiers in the field. The Army has already begun fielding and training two more brigades to use the equipment and operate on the network: the 2nd and 3rd brigades of the 101st Airborne Division.