PRC-154 with 75th RR
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The Pentagon’s JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio System) aimed to replace existing radios in the American military with a single set of software-define radios that could have new frequencies and modes (“waveforms”) added via upload, instead of requiring multiple radio types in ground vehicles, and using circuit board swaps in order to upgrade. Trying to solve that set of problems across the entire American military meant taking on a very a big problem. Maybe too big. JTRS has seen cost overruns and full program restructurings, along with cancellation of some parts of the program.
JTRS HMS (Handheld, Manpack & Small Form-Fit) radios, for use by the individual solder, have survived the tumult, and are now headed into production. They offer soldiers more than just improved communications, and have performed in exercises and on the front lines. Now, production is ramping up.
JTRS HMS: The Radios
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JTRS HMS’ AN/PRC-154 Rifleman radios are jointly developed and manufactured by Thales and General Dynamics. These software-defined radios are designed as successors to the JTRS-compatible CSCHR (PRC-148 and PRC-152) handhelds, securely transmitting voice and data simultaneously using Type 2 cryptography and the new Soldier Radio Waveform. General Dynamics touts it as being more than 20% smaller than current tactical handhelds, with battery life of over 10 hours. It weighs 2 pounds, with battery and antenna.
The Rifleman radio can create self-forming, ad hoc, voice and data networks. What’s even more significant is that they also enable any leader at the tactical level to track the position of individual soldiers who are also using the radio. That’s a big deal in urban environments, which can force a squad or platoon to split up.
For vehicles that may not have a JTRS HMS radio or a base station, the Rifleman Radio also mounts to a ‘Sidewinder’ accessory that provides power for recharging and/or longer-range transmission. To use it, just slide your PRC-154 radio in. The Sidewinder’s hardware assembly includes the 20w power amplifier from the AN/PRC-155, and connectors that work with the vehicles’ existing intercom systems. Sidewinder is compatible with many US standard military mounting trays and vehicle intercom systems: MT-6352/VRC; SINCGARS VRC-89, 90, 91, 92; and SINCGARS AM-7239 VAA.
JTRS HMS set
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The program’s Small Form Fit (SFF) configurations also include embedded variants that serve in Army host platforms. The 0.5 pound SFF-A/D offers communications for UAVs and the tracked SUGV robot. The 3.4 pound SFF-B can serve as a communications relay; it allows bridging from unclassified to classified networks, and is expandable with the broadband WNW. SFF-B can be carried in vehicles, helicopters, or as an airborne relay by UAVs.
JTRS HMS’ AN/PRC-155 Manpack is a larger 2-channel networking radio that allows battlefield commanders to talk to their team on one channel, and exchange information with other forces or headquarters on the second channel. There are many times on the battlefield when having to choose one or the other is a lousy choice to make, and the fact that it has been that way for a long time doesn’t make fixing it any less beneficial.
The 14-pound PRC-155 is the only JTRS radio to successfully demonstrate all 3 new waveforms: the Soldier Radio Waveform, the Wideband Networking Waveform, and the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite-communications waveform. That last option comes in very handy in urban environments, mountains, and other terrain that can block straight-line radio communications. The PRC-155 is also interoperable with older systems, of course, including the current frequency-hopping SINCGARS standard. Planned enhancements would extend that backward compatibility, and include: HF, IW, VHF/UHF LOS, AM/FM, and APCO-25.
Unfortunately, the radio’s 17 pounds makes it twice as heavy as previous SINCGARS radios, its effective range is less than half as far (3 km vs. 7 km), its 2 batteries last less than 20% as long (6 hours vs. 33 hours), and its user interface is an impediment. The US Army has deferred its planned Lot 3 purchase.
Phase 2 of JTRS HMS will produce Manpack radios with stronger NSA-certified Type 1 cryptography.
Both the JTRS HMS AN/PRC-154 Rifleman and the 2-channel AN/PRC-155 Manpack networking radios are planned for inclusion in the Army’s Capability Set 13, which is to be delivered to Infantry Brigade Combat Teams beginning in October 2012.
Contracts & Key Events
January 12/15: HMS RFP. The U.S. Army issued an RFP for full rate production, with plans to test units over 2015-1016, “off-ramping” multiple vendors who do not meet requirements and going into full production in 2017.
June 16/14: PRC-155 backtrack. The US Army cancels a May 30/14 sole-source decision to buy more PRC-155 radios. This proposed LRIP-3 order is undone:
“U.S. Army Contracting Command – Aberdeen Proving Ground (ACC-APG) intends to solicit on a sole source basis under the statutory authority permitting Other than Full and Open Competition 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(2), as implemented by FAR 6.302-2, Unusual and Compelling Urgency to General Dynamics C4 Systems… for the procurement of Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Manpack Radios (AN/PRC-155).”
Sources: FBO.gov, “58–Manpack Radio, Solicitation Number: W15P7T14R0027″
June 13/14: Manpack problems. The PRC-155 radios didn’t win a lot of fans in recent trials. Where to start? The radio’s 17 pounds makes it twice as heavy as previous SINCGARS radios, its effective range is less than half as far (3 km vs. 7 km), its 2 batteries last less than 20% as long (6 hours vs. 33 hours), and its user interface is an impediment. Adding to the fun, overheating is hazardous to the carrying soldier if it’s taken out of the case against recommendations. Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, in Fort Benning, Georgia:
“The Maneuver Center of Excellence considers the dismounted HMS manpack radio unsuitable for fielding to brigade combat teams…. A radio that is heavier and provides less range while creating a higher logistics demand does not make our units more operationally capable. Additionally, any radio that places our soldiers at risk of being burned is unacceptable.”
Most manpack radios are actually placed in vehicles, where all concerns save their short range vanish. Even so, the Army has a problem. Congress has been able to make things worse, by demanding that it spend about $300 million in appropriated radio funds, even if the best technical course of action is to wait. Now throw in the usual corporate welfare/ industrial base arguments, which are further complicated by Harris Corp.’s contemplation of a lawsuit to have JTRS HMS compatible manpack radios competed – something BAE might also want. Regardless of how the political and contractor games play out, the bottom line is that the front-line soldiers are losing. Sources: NDIA National Defense, “Army Tactical Radios in the Crosshairs After Scathing Review”.
April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report. For Joint Tactical Radio System Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit Radios (JTRS HMS):
“The PAUC [which includes amortized R&D] increased 20.0 percent and the APUC increased 19.2 percent above the current APB, due to a revision in the acquisition strategy for full rate production (including a change from a single vendor per radio to multiple vendors per radio), vehicle integration requirements not previously identified as a funding responsibility of the program, and a change in the Army fielding strategy that fields fewer radios per year.”
Aug 19/13: Manpack. The US Army is also preparing a competition for the larger JTRS HMS Manpack radio in FY 2014. General Dynamics and Thales lost one potential incumbent advantage when schedule slippages sent 10th Mountain Division soldiers to Afghanistan with Harris’ earlier-model Falcon III 117G radios, instead of JTRS HMS AN/PRC-155s. The division’s 3rd and 4th Brigade Combat Teams did take the AN/PRC-154 Rifleman radio with them. Sources: Defense News, “Army Preparing For a Slew of Critical Radio Contracts”.
Aug 16/13: Rifleman. The US Army’s JTRS HMS Rifleman solicitation takes longer than they thought, as the draft RFP is issued for comments. The Army still intends to conduct an open competition for a 5-year firm-fixed-price follow-on, and is hosting a Rifleman Radio Industry Day on Sept 5/13. The goal is an award in FY 2014.
It’s possible for the Army’s base radio type to change as a result of that competition, and General Dynamics’ PRC-154 will face competition from Harris’ RF-330E-TR Wideband Team Radio, among others. FBO.gov #W15P7T13R0029 | US Army ASFI | Harris RF-330E-TR.
Oct 22/12: Rifleman. The US Army prepares to open JTRS HMS to competition for full rate production, via a sources sought solicitation:
“Project Manager Tactical Radios is seeking industry comments and feedback to the draft Statement of Objectives, draft Statement of Work, draft Performance Requirements Document, draft Contract Data Requirements List, and questionnaire for Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) Rifleman Radios (RR)… NO SOLICITATION EXISTS AT THIS TIME. It is currently anticipated that Solicitation W15P7T-12-R-0069 regarding this requirement will be released later in 1QFY13.”
Oct 22/12: BAE’s Phoenix. The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson offers a quick rundown of the JTRS concept, and spends a fair bit of time talking about the Phoenix radio that BAE has developed with its own funds, as a future JTRS HMS Manpack competitor. Its anti-jam feature may help remove an issue encountered when counter-IED devices are broadcasting, and during Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon when its SINCGARS radios were jammed with Iranian assistance. He says that likely JTRS HMS competitors include BAE Systems, Harris, ITT Exelis, and Northrop Grumman, alongside the existing GD/Thales team. Sources: Forbes, “Army Resets Radio Plans As Demand Signal Shifts” | BAE Systems Phoenix Family.
Oct 11/12: PRC-155 LRIP OK. The PRC-155 Manpack radio is also cleared for low-rate initial production now, after the Pentagon issued a memo accepting that flaws with SINCGARS performance and difficulty of use had been fixed.
The May 2011 entry covered Milestone C for the entire program, but the PRC-155’s progress was conditional. The memo authorizes 3,726 HMS Manpack radios, under a 2nd LRIP order to follow. That order will also support future test events, development up to a Full Rate Production decision, and potential fielding as part of the US Army’s Capability Set 13. Beyond that, however, the memo also directs the service to conduct a “full and open” competition for full-rate production JTRS HMS radios, starting no later than July 2013. US Army | Bloomberg.
Manpack to LRIP
Sept 17/12: LRIP-2. The U.S. Army awards a $53.9 million Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) contract for 13,000 AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radios and associated gear, with production to be split between prime contractor General Dynamics C4 Systems, and their partner and 2nd-source supplier Thales Communications.
Each contractor produces 50% of the ordered equipment, and the LRIP-2 contract brings AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio orders to 19,250 so far. Thales Rifleman Radios are manufactured at the company’s Clarksburg, MD, facilities. US Army | GDC4S | Thales Communications.
LRIP Lot 2
May 16/12: WNW Test. General Dynamics C4 Systems announces that they have demonstrated wireless high definition video and data transfer on the JTRS HMS AN/PRC-155 two-channel networking manpack radio, using the new high-bandwidth Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW). With so many UAVs, robot UGVs, and other sensors roaming around the battlefield these days, that kind of local high-bandwidth networking is really helpful.
May 16/12: AOL Defense reports that General Dynamics tried to get an amendment to the 2013 defense budget that would affect the JTRS HMS competition, but the amendment’s wording was somewhat confusing, and it failed. The House Armed Services Committee seems pretty intent on full and open competition.
March – May 2012: The US Army 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade uses the Rifleman Radio in the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.21 exercise, alongside other equipment that comprises WIN-T Phase 2. GDC4S.
March 30/12: SAR. The Pentagon releases its Selected Acquisition Reports summary, and JTRS HMS is on it. It’s reported as a significant program change, since:
“Program costs increased $3,493.3 million (+60.1%) from $5,811.4 million to $9,304.7 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of 49,224 radios from 221,978 to 271,202 radios [DID: +22.2%].”
That’s only a 22.2% quantity increase, which leaves 37.9% of the cost increase unaccounted for. At least HMS did better than the JTRS GMR for ground vehicles, whose costs declined 62.2% because the program was cancelled. The army says the vehicle-mounted GMR radars were just too expensive, and they’ll look for JTRS-compatible off-the-shelf alternatives.
SAR – more JTRS HMS, no JTRS GMR
Feb 17/12: MUOS test. General Dynamics C4 Systems announces that they’ve successfully run their 1st test of the AN/PRC-155, suing the MUOS satellite-communications waveform to transmit encrypted voice and data. Development of the MUOS waveform remains on track for completion in the third quarter of 2012, with expected production availability or software upgrade by year-end.
The PRC-155 manpack radio will be the first MUOS communications terminal used by soldiers. Its twin channels mean that a soldier can use 1 channel for line-of-sight SINCGARS and SRW waveforms, and bridge to the 2nd channel using the MUOS satellite system for global communications reach.
Jan 23/12: It’s announced that the US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment special forces in Afghanistan have deployed with the PRC-154 the Rifleman Radio, and General Dynamics Itronix GD300 wearable computer. The Rifleman Radio is for intra-squad communications, while the GD300, running the Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR) tactical “app,” will be used to send text messages, situation reports and other information to individual soldiers.
The equipment reportedly gets good reviews in theater. CDC4S | Inside the Army [PDF].
Jan 17/12: DOT&E testing. The Pentagon releases the FY 2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). JTRS HMS is included, and a number of the DOT&E’s conclusions appear elsewhere in the timeline. Their core concern is that:
“The JTRS HMS program is schedule-driven and has reduced developmental testing to support an aggressive operational test schedule. Therefore, operational testing has and will likely continue to reveal problems that should have been discovered and fixed during developmental testing.”
Dec 14/11: IOT&E done. The AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio has finished its Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) with members of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD), during the U.S. Army’s Network Integration Evaluation at Fort Bliss, TX. The IOT&E is the last formal test required by the military before the radios enter full-rate production. US Army | GDC4S.
Oct 10/11: WNW. General Dynamics C4 Systems announces a 5-year, maximum $64.5 million contract to support, maintain, and further develop the high-bandwidth JTRS Wideband Networking Waveform.
This Software In-Service Support contract was awarded by the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR), which oversees JTRS. The award is separate from, but related to, GDC4S’ role as the prime contractor for the JTRS Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit radio program.
WNW support & development
July 7/11: LRIP-1. The U.S. Army awards the 1st Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) contract. It’s a $54.4 million order for 6,250 AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radios, plus 100 AN/PRC-155 Manpack radios for continued testing, and expenses for one-time production startup costs, accessories, training, related equipment and supplies.
Technically, General Dynamics receives the LRIP contract, and the Rifleman radios will be manufactured in a 50/ 50 split by both Thales Communications and General Dynamics. JTRS HMS’ contract structure, from System Design and Development through LRIP, has been designed to provide competition from multiple qualified sources.
The JTRS HMS networking radios are the first ground-domain radios that will be fielded by the U.S. military that meet the full suite of JTRS requirements. At this point, the Army plans to purchase more than 190,000 Rifleman and approximately 50,000 Manpack radios. GDC4S | Thales Communications.
1st Production Lot
July 2011: Manpack testing fail. During the Army’s Network Integration Eexercise (NIE), they test the JTRS HMS Manpack. The Pentagon’s DOT&E testing report says that it demonstrated poor reliability, short range of the Soldier Radio Waveform and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) waveforms that significantly constricted the operational area of the cavalry troop, and Inconsistent voice quality. Overall, the Army decided that the Manpack’s Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) waveform was not ready for test and did not test it during the truncated formal Government Developmental Test. Source: DOT&E.
May 2011: Milestone C. The JTRS HMS program received a Milestone C decision from the U.S. Department of Defense, clearing the radios for low-rate production. The Defense Acquisition Executive approved up to 6,250 Rifleman Radios, and up to 100 Manpack radios.
January 2011: The US Army conducts a Verification of Correction of Deficiencies (VCD) test with a redesigned version of the Rifleman Radio.
That full redesign stemmed from the 2009 Limited User Test, where the radio was deemed ok during movement and preparation, but didn’t perform well in combat. The redesigned Rifleman Radio featured improvements in size, weight, battery life, radio frequency power out, and ease of use. Source: DOT&E.
Sept 8/10: Crypto cert. General Dynamics announces that its AIM II programmable cryptographic module has been certified by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to secure classified information up to and including Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).
The AIM II module uses a secure hardware foundation with embedded software-based cryptographic algorithms. It’s certified for the JTRS HMS and Airborne Maritime Fixed (AMF) radios alike.
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