U.S. Army Begins Testing New JTRS Radios

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has begun to take delivery of and test some Small Form Fit Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) devices that are designed to embed in sensors, robots and unmanned aerial vehicles and enable soldiers to network in real time, service and industry officials said.

Among the key radios that have arrived are the Small Form Fit A (SFF-A) for sensors and Small Form Fit D (SFF-D) designed for the Small Unattended Ground Sensors and Micro Air Vehicle.

The SFF-A and SFF-D have been embedded in their respective platforms and are undergoing testing with Army evaluation units at Fort Bliss, Texas.

In fact, operational success of the Future Combat Systems spin-out technologies — now called capabilities packages — hinges on a terrestrial or “land-based” software programmable network with JTRS at its core. The radios are networked together to share voice, video, data and images across a moving force in real time. The Small Form Fit radios are critical to this equation, Army and industry officials said.

“They are the network-enabling devices for the spin-outs,” said Joe Miller, who directs the JTRS HMS (Handheld/Manpack/Small Form Fit) program for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based General Dynamics C4 Systems.

“The JTRS suite of waveforms and hardware is vital. That is the transport mechanism that brings jointness to the tactical level. We just completed some reviews of where we are with JTRS; we are encouraged by what we see. We will get the capability we need, when we need it on the timeline we planned,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, deputy chief of staff of the Army, programs.

The SFF-A JTRS radio is a 20-centimeter, 227-gram radio built into the Unattended Ground Sensors that can beam back images from a cave, building or forward location.

“We have delivered over 300 of these radios. They provide a one­channel ad hoc network radio that runs Soldier Radio Waveform with Type 2 NSA [National Security Agency] certification,” Miller said.

National Security Agency Type 2 classification means the radio can share sensitive but not secret information. National Security Agency-certified Type 1 radios can share secret information; the idea is to create a network of radios or “nodes” on the network to move information across the battlefield to a higher echelon in real time.

“If you are an unattended sensor, you may be sitting in the weeds. You don’t have to talk to a command post, you just have to talk to another radio to communicate the information that the sensor has to share,” said Chris Brady, vice president of assured communications systems for General Dynamics C4. The sensors — which include a smaller Urban Unattended Ground Sensors for buildings and a Tactical Unattended Ground Sensors for strategic combat locations — are aimed at maintaining “watch” over a key area for extended periods of time by virtue of their size, weight and power.

“The sensor can last for 30 days by draining very little of the platform’s battery,” Brady said.

The SFF-D radios are for the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle cave­clearing robot and vertical take-off, hover-and-stare Micro Air Vehicle.

“The SFF-D is essentially an [unmanned aerial vehicle] and [small unmanned ground vehicle] radio. It is an SFF-A with an L-band [satellite] capability embedded for when you have dispersed forces with a network on the ground and you have topology that blocks the network,” Miller said. “In this case, you can fly an [unmanned aerial vehicle] as a ‘node’ and connect.” The SFF-D uses Soldier Radio Waveform but may also use a new waveform, Miller said. It is also a one-channel Type 2 National Security Agency-certified radio.

Additional two-channel Small Form Fit radios are due to be delivered for testing by the first quarter of next year, such as Manpack terminals for a vehicle or a soldier backpack, SFF-B for soldier-worn radios, and the SFF-J for the Non­Line-of-Sight Launch System group of mobile missiles, among others.

The Manpack radio, which has satellite capability, is being designed to travel with two 20-watt amplifiers so that the battery weighs less than 7 kilograms. The Manpack also has UHF satcom connectivity, Miller said.

The Manpack will be built to use the Mobile User Objective System, a next-generation tactical satellite, and will work with both SRW as well as the Wideband Networking Wave­form.

“The Manpack forms a higher level network by porting [Wideband Networking Wave­form ],” Miller said. “It can travel with [infantry brigade combat teams] where you might not be able to take a heavy vehicle with network access points.” The SFF-B is a two-channel, Type 1 soldier-worn radio to be integrated with Ground Soldier Ensemble. The 30 megahertz to 2.5 gigahertz radio is slated to begin developmental testing in October, Miller said.