Industry is moving to supply the U.S. military with new communications technologies that are more cost-effective and offer enhanced capabilities. Software defined, multi-channel radios are seen as the wave of the future as the armed services try to stay ahead of emerging threats.
The network is one of the Army's top six modernization priorities. The service recently undertook a comprehensive study of its communications architectures.
"One of the big ah-ha moments for us... [was the realization] that we missed that strategic shift in the IT marketplace that started happening--this idea of software defined radios," Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, chief information officer, Army G-6, said at the MILCOM conference in October.
"It started to pick up steam right under our noses... [but] we were kind of busy fighting two wars," he added.
There are generally two kinds of military radios: hardware centric/purpose-built designs, and software defined.
"Most purpose-built solutions are optimized for size, weight, power and performance but are significantly more expensive and time consuming to design and produce," Paul Mehney, a spokesman for the Army's program executive office command, control and communications-tactical, said in an email.
Additionally, they cannot be modified easily because they would require redesign or re-manufacturing to accept new technology, he noted.
Software defined radios, on the other hand, can receive upgrades by changing the software load, enabling the radio to run multiple waveforms or accept new ones. That will enable the Army to acquire new radio technology as it emerges without having to buy additional equipment or start a new program, he said.
The Army is now dedicated to a software defined radio acquisition strategy, said Col. Garth Winterle, project manager for tactical radios at PEO C3T.
"We recognize that there are advantages to purpose-built, hardware defined radios," Winterle said in a written response to questions. "However, the Army operates in an evolving threat-based environment that requires upgradeability that is limited by a hardware defined solution. Software defined radios allow for less complicated waveform upgrades and do not require costly hardware changes as we incorporate electronic warfare hardening and cyber protection."
Army officials are also keen on two-channel radios. The service had been fielding a one-channel Rifleman radio to infantry brigade combat teams until 2017. But soldiers requested a two-channel capability to eliminate the need to carry two radios--one for voice and...