Tactical radios are one of the quiet lifelines of the battlefield. They can also be be a very quiet pain in the nether regions. After-action reviews by US troops in Iraq have cited lack of compatibility among available communications systems, creating pressure to modernize. Yet the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program that was intended to ensure this modernization has been plagued by inflated requirements, system delays, cost issues, and restructuring. What to do?
Fortunately, industry is providing interim answers that offer a bridge from the previous SINCGARS systems to the next-generation JTRS. Thales Communications’ AN/PRC-148 MBITR hand-held is the hand-held radio for USSOCOM, the most widely fielded multi-band portable radio in the US armed services, and is in use by many NATO Special Forces thanks to its small size, software-based structure, and excellent interoperability. The PRC-148 JEM version is JTRS-certified, and a vehicle-mounted VRC-111 component is also available as one of the radio’s expansion options. A recently-purchased JEM version even adds initial JTRS compatibility and software-based upgradeability. Rival Harris Corp. has not been idle; its larger Falcon III PRC-152-C/ VRC-110 system sports similar software-based JTRS upgradeability and certifications, and has received orders of its own.
In response, the US military is moving to consolidate its tactical radio purchases across participating services, in order to reduce unit costs. These 2 firms will now compete for delivery orders under the Consolidated
Interim Single Channel Handheld Radio (CISCHR/ CSCHR) program – orders that could total nearly $10 billion by the time all is said and done.
The Radio Systems
Harris Corp’s offerings for CISCHR include the privately-developed Falcon III(R) AN/PRC-152-C hand-held, JTRS-compatible radio. Accessories, spares, training and field support will also be part of any delivery orders.
In addition, Harris will supply versions of its Falcon III AN/VRC-110, a larger, vehicle-mounted, 50-watt system that’s based on the PRC-152-C. The VRC-110 provides existing SINCGARS radio capabilities, plus UHF line-of-sight communications, close-air support and tactical satellite communications, programmable encryption, and software upgradability using the JTRS Software Communications Architecture (SCA). Because it includes the hand-held PRC-152-C, soldiers can remove a hand-held radio from their vehicle in seconds, without ever dropping communications. This is particularly valuable in urban combat scenarios. The Falcon III series has also been ordered by Australia as a key component of its future communications and battle management networks.
Thales Communications, meanwhile, is offering their AN/PRC-148 JEM hand-held radio, which “Thales PRC-148 JEM: The First Tactically Deployed JTRS Radio?” described in detail. The AN/PRC-148 MBITR (Multi-Band Intrasquad Tactical Radio) has been widely fielded with US forces, and has received praise for its performance in theater. The JTRS-compatible JEM version was developed in partnership with US SOCOM (Special Operations COMmand), and has begun receiving US military orders.
Thales Communications also offers their AN/VRC-111 “Vehicle Adapter Amplifiers,” which use the PRC-148 JEM as a component. They fill the same role as Harris’ VRC-110, and offer cable-free rapid removal options for the PRC-148 handsets they contain (up to 2). The VRC-111 offers all MBITR functionality plus SINCGARS, HAVQUICK, and ANDVT; and JTRS SCA software upgradability. These vehicle mounts provide a boost to 20 Watts of power across the full 30 – 512 MHz frequency range.
Thales Communications materials do not allow an exact “apples to apples” comparison with the PRC-152. Beyond the VRC-111, the firm has worked with the USAF to field a Vehicle Adapter Amplifier (VAA) that mounts 2 JEM radios and turns them into a 2-channel system with a power boost to 50 Watts in the 30 – 88 MHz frequency range, and 20 Watts of in the 90 – 512 MHz frequency range.
Other offerings within this radio family include a Base Station for fixed applications in command posts and base operations; a Tactical Repeater for range extension; and compact, rugged Man Portable Systems for dismounted operations requiring higher power output. All of these systems work with, and in many cases use, the MBITR/JEM handsets.
Contracts & Key Events
Note that the initial June 18/07 contracts are enabling contracts that specifies Thales Communications and Harris Corp. as the 2 approved suppliers for future awards, which will be based on competition between the 2 manufacturers. Those ongoing competitions and bids will result in formal delivery orders from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Unless otherwise noted, the US Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, CA manages these contracts.
FY 2011 – 2012
Harris Corp. in Rochester, NY wins a 2-year, $397.5 million base contract. It also includes 2 one-year options, which could bring the contract’s maximum value to $712.8 million. Of course, to achieve this, they would have to win every task order, and have SPAWAR order everything permitted under the contract. That’s unlikely, to say the least.
Work will be performed in Rochester, NY, and the base contract ends on Sept 9/14 (N66001-12-D-0149).
Thales Communications, Inc. in Clarksburg, MD wins a 2-year, $368.7 million base contract. It also includes 2 one-year options, which could bring the contract’s maximum value to $644.3 million. Of course, to achieve this, they would have to win every task order, and have SPAWAR order everything permitted under the contract. That’s unlikely, to say the least.
Work will be performed in Clarksburg, MD, and the base contract ends on Sept 9/14 (N66001-12-D-0148).
“We are now studying potential options while also looking at fielding schedules to ensure any option can meet the timeline established. Those assessments are currently underway.”
July 26/12: JTRS. A US Defense Acquisition Board decides to delay a production decision for the JTRS HMS Manpack radio, after the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation criticized its ability to handle standard SINCGARS modes. The radio program has also been the target of Senate appropriators, who are looking to trim its funding.
The panel pushed the decision to September 2012, and General Dynamics says that the software issues have been fixed, but these issues are delaying fielding. CISCHR radios are the obvious substitutes until all of this is resolved. Source.
Jan 5/11: Harris Corporation announces a $24.5 million order to provide the U.S. Army and the U.S. Department of Defense with Falcon III AN/PRC-152-C multiband handheld radios and ancillary equipment, and the U.S. Department of Defense with counterpart Falcon III AN/VRC 110 vehicular tactical radio systems, for use in multiple Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle models.
The buy was made under the Consolidated Single-Channel Handheld Radio (CISCHR) contract through JPEO JTRS. Like many other MRAP components, the radios and vehicular amplifier adapter systems for MRAP vehicles were ordered with a DX rating, the Pentagon’s highest priority for rapid delivery. As of this release, Harris states that the PRC-152-C has more than 130,000 units deployed worldwide.
FY 2009 – 2010
July 22/10: Harris Corp. announces a $17.6 million American order for its AN/PRC-152-C multiband handheld radio systems and accessories. The order was awarded by JPEO-JTRS on behalf of the U.S. Army.
July 1/10: Harris Corp. announces a $23.5 million American order for its AN/PRC-152-C multiband handheld radio systems and accessories. The order was awarded by JPEO-JTRS on behalf of the USAF.
May 27/10: Harris Corp. announces a $27 million order for Falcon III AN/PRC-152-C multiband handheld radios and ancillary equipment, and their counterpart Falcon III AN/VRC 110 vehicular tactical radio systems, for use in M-ATV protected patrol vehicles. Harris says that these radios “are installed in the majority of M-ATV vehicles deployed to Afghanistan.”
May 3/10: Harris Corp. announces a $13 million order for Falcon III AN/PRC-152-C multiband handheld radios and ancillary equipment, and their counterpart Falcon III AN/VRC 110 vehicular tactical radio systems, for use in M-ATV protected patrol vehicles.
March 29/10: Harris Corp. announces $74 million in orders to supply Falcon III AN/PRC-152-C multiband handheld radios and ancillary equipment, and their counterpart Falcon III AN/VRC 110 vehicular tactical radio systems, for use in M-ATV protected patrol vehicles.
The Falcon III AN/PRC-152 was picked to provide M-ATV riders with Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA) satellite communications interoperability.
Jan 25/10: The US Army announces that technicians in the Ground Radio Branch of CECOM’s Communications Systems Directorate’s Tactical Communications Division have completed the first-ever depot repair of new off-the-shelf, software-driven, multi-band radios: the AN/PRC-117 multiband, multimission, manpack radio ad its counterpart AN/VRC-103 multiband, multimission manpack radio system; the AN/PRC-150 high frequency manpack radio and its counterpart AN/VRC-104 power amplifier; and the AN/PRC-152 single-channel multiband, multimission handheld radio and its counterpart AN/VRC-110 vehicle amplifier.
“They are used by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines in several environments, including Tactical Operations Centers and air defense and airspace management (ADAMS) cells.”
Jan 19/10: Thales Communications, Inc. announces 2 contracts from to JPEO JTRS office to provide 11,000 50-Watt CVAs to the US Marine Corps, for use with previously-purchased Thales AN/PRC-148 JTRS-approved radios. These contracts were awarded under the CISCHR contract.
The 16-pound, 50-Watt CVA combines the functionality of Thales’ battle-proven AN/PRC-148 JEM (JTRS Enhanced MBITR) handheld radio set with a high-powered vehicle amplifier, providing 50 Watts of RF power output from 30 to 88 MHz and 20 Watts of RF power output from 88 to 512 MHz. The CVA uses the AN/PRC-148 JEM as its core component, providing higher RF power output for all of the AN/PRC-148 radio capabilities with a common Human Machine Interface (HMI). The AN/PRC-148 JEM radio hosts a wide variety of key waveforms, including ANDVT, HAVEQUICK I/II, SINCGARS, MELP, 56 kbps High Throughput Waveform, Project 25, and SATCOM IW.
Jan 6/10: Harris Corp. announces $119 million in orders to supply Falcon III AN/PRC-152-C multiband handheld radios and ancillary equipment, and their counterpart Falcon III AN/VRC 110 vehicular tactical radio systems, for use in M-ATV protected patrol vehicles.
Jan 27/09: Thales Communications, Inc. announces the delivery of over 700 of its 50-Watt AN/VRC-111 Vehicle Adapter Amplifiers (VAAs) to the U.S. Air Force’s Tactical Air Control Party Modernization Office (TACP-M) at Hanscom Air Force Base. Thanks to this power boost, TACP can leverage the VAA’s AN/PRC-148 JEM radios as an interim bridge buy, for use by forward air controllers who work with the US Army.
Most of the VAAs will be installed in TACP’s new blast-resistant MRAP vehicles, and in the USAF’s already-fielded AN/GRC-206 communications pallets, where they will leverage the PRC-148 JEM’s software upgradability and widespread compatibility. The VAA’s 2 JEM radios can switch from vehicle-mounted to dismounted in less than 2-seconds.
As part of these orders, Thales also delivered more than 200 of its 20-Watt AN/VRC-111 vehicle mounting systems for the PRC-148 JEM.
FY 2007 – 2008
Aug 11/08: Harris Corp. in Rochester, NY received a $62.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N66001-07-D-0054, #P00003). The firm will provide additional items for maritime single-channel, handheld radios and maritime handheld and vehicular components and accessories for the U.S. military. This modification brings the cumulative value of this contract to $4.448 billion.
Work will be performed in Rochester, NY, and is expected to be complete in June 2009. This modification was negotiated as a supplemental agreement on a sole source basis in accordance with 10 U.S.C. 2304c1, Only One Responsible Source (FAR Subpart 6.302-1).
Aug 11/08: Thales Communications, Inc. in Clarksburg, MD receved a $56.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N66001-07-D-0107, #P00003). The firm will provide additional items for maritime single-channel, handheld radios and maritime handheld and vehicular components and accessories for the U.S. military. This modification brings the cumulative value of this contract to $5.685 billion.
Work will be performed in Clarksburg, MD, and is expected to be complete in June 2009. This modification was negotiated as a supplemental agreement on a sole source basis in accordance with 10 U.S.C. 2304c1, Only One Responsible Source (FAR Subpart 6.302-1).
April 7/08: Harris Corp. announces a $96.7 million contract to continue upgrading U.S. Marine Corps tactical radio communications with AN/PRC-152-C hand-held radios and accompanying Falcon III AN/VRC-110 vehicular radio systems.
This is the 2nd major contract from the U.S. Marines under its Tactical Handheld Radio (THHR) procurement program, but the buy is being conducted through the CISCHR contract.
Feb 25/08: Thales Communications, Inc., announces a contract award from the U.S. Government to upgrade its AN/PRC-148 JEM to incorporate the UHF SATCOM Integrated Waveform (IW) as defined by MIL-STD-188-181C, 188-182B, and 188-183B.
Feb 13/08: Harris Corporation announces that its PRC-152-C radios will be installed on US Army RQ-7 Shadow 200 UAVs, to operate as communications relays over an area up to 170 km/ 105 miles in diameter. The radio purchases will take place outside this contract.
Jan 16/08: Harris Corporation announces several new orders for its Falcon family of radios worth a total of $158 million: a $118 million US Army order for Falcon II HF vehicular radio systems for HMMWV‘s and other vehicles, and A $14 million order from the U.S. Marine Corps for Falcon III AN/VRC-110 vehicular systems that incorporate the AN/PRC-152 (C). The USMC order will support Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) and other tactical vehicles, and this is the 3rd order under the $212 million Tactical Handheld Radio (THHR) contract awarded in the summer of 2007.
Finally, the announcement includes a $26 million order from the USAF to supply JTRS-approved Falcon III AN/PRC-152-C handheld tactical radio systems, which takes place under under this Consolidated Interim Single Channel Handheld Radio (CISCHR) contract.
Oct 29/07: Thales Communications, Inc., announces 2 awards from JPEO JTRS for its AN/PRC-148 JTRS handheld radio under the Consolidated, Interim, Single-channel, Handheld Radio (CISCHR) contract. These delivery orders will field almost 40,000 AN/PRC-148 JTRS Enhanced MBITRs (JEMs), as well as ancillaries, with an aggregate total contract value exceeding $128 million. The most recent JPEO award was on behalf of the U.S. Army and was the first delivery order for the U.S. Army under the CISCHR contract. Thales Communications release.
Sept 5/07: Harris Corporation announces that its Falcon III AN/PRC-152-C handheld radio has become the first radio to be certified as JTRS-compliant without waivers by the JTRS Joint Program Executive Office (JTRS JPEO). This is a step forward; the system had previously been certified as SCA-compliant, but only “with waivers.”
The SCA-compliant designation is based on comprehensive test results and a recommendation from the JTRS Test and Evaluation Laboratory. Specifically, the radio had been certified as fully compliant with version 2.2 of the JTRS Software Communications Architecture (SCA), which provides the overall blueprint for building JTRS software defined radio systems.
If “software defined radio” sounds like a lot like “computer that can transmit voice signals” to you, you’re right. A software-defined radio’s operating environment is similar to a computer’s operating system; it works with the radio’s waveform software application to synchronize hardware, firmware, and cryptographic components, and controls the radio’s transmission of voice and data.
Harris PRC-152 JTRS certification
June 18/07: Thales Communications Inc. in Clarksburg, MD received a $3.51 billion firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to provide interim software-defined, single-channel handheld radios to the U.S. military. This contract includes 4 one-year options which would bring the total potential value of this contract to $9.04 billion, if exercised.
Work will be performed in Clarksburg, MD and is expected to be complete June 2008 (June 2012 with options). This contract was competitively procured via the Commerce Business Daily website and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems e-Commerce website, with 2 offers received by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego, CA (N66001-07-D-0107). Thales Communications release.
June 18/07: The Harris Corp. in Rochester, NY received a $2.74 billion firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to provide interim software-defined, single-channel handheld radios to the U.S. military. This contract includes 4 one-year options which would bring the total potential value of this contract to $6.98 billion, if exercised.
Work will be performed in Rochester, NY, and work is expected to be completed June 2008 (June 2012 with options). This contract was competitively procured via the Commerce Business Daily website and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems e-Commerce website, with 2 offers received by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego, CA (N66001-07-D-0054). Harris Corp. release.
May 14/07: Jane’s International Defence Review reports that “proposals were due in at the end of April to the US Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center – San Diego (SPAWAR), which hosts the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO), for software-defined radios able to fulfill a new joint-service Consolidated Interim Single-Channel Handheld Radio (CISCHR) requirement. The latter is planned to involve the supply of an estimated 220,610 multiband, multimode radios under five-year indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity (ID/IQ) contracts, for use by all the US armed services in handheld and vehicular roles.”
2007 – 2012 contracts
Additional Readings & Sources
* DID (Jan 22/07) – Thales PRC-148 JEM: The First Tactically Deployed JTRS Radio? Explains how the PRC-148 became a success story, and covers both Thales and Harris products.
* Thales Communications, Inc. – AN/PRC-148 Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio (MBITR)
* Thales Communications, Inc. – JTRS Enhanced MBITR (JEM): AN/PRC-148(V)3(C) – AN/PRC-148(V)4(C)
* Thales Communications – FAQ. Covers several aspects of the PRC-148 JEM.
* Thales Communications – AN/VRC-111 Vehicle Adapter Amplifiers
* Thales Communications – Base Stations
* Harris RF Communications – AN/PRC-152(C) Type-1 Handheld Multiband Radio
* GLG (Dec 10/10) – Harris Corporation remains key JTRS Program supplier; but DoD budget cuts loom
* National Defense Magazine (Feb 2007) – Delays in ‘joint tactical radio’ program cast doubts on future. This excerpt sums it up: “Army officials would like to have the advanced JTRS radios, but they have to wait so long to get them that they prefer to buy proven legacy technology or commercially developed software radios. But the more money that goes into these alternatives to JTRS, the less likely that the program will get off the ground. Troops on the ground in Iraq, meanwhile, remain encumbered by the lack of radio interoperability between services – a problem that JTRS was expected to solve.”
* Military Information Technology (Dec 20/06) – Radio Executive: Interview with Dennis M. Bauman [of JPEO JTRS]. See esp. his comments re: JEM and the Harris PRC-152.
* Special Operations Technology (Nov 19/06) – Can You Hear Me Now?
* DID (July 28/06) – JTRS Program to Continue After Restructuring
* Army Communicator (June 22/05) – MBITR communications = power in your pocket (Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio). An excellent overview of the PRC-148’s capabilities from a front-line perspective. Also includes an excellent recent history of Army procurement efforts in this area, and issues/dangers in the present day.
* DID (April 28/05) – Jittery Over JTRS, Pentagon Puts Boeing on Notice. Covers what used to be “JTRS Cluster 1.” The vehicle radios from Cluster 1 and the Handheld, Manpack & Small (HMS) radios from Cluster 5 are now under the JTRS Ground Domain program.