Army advances mid-tier radio for battlefield network

By May 14, 2014Acquisition
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By Argie Sarantinos-Perrin, PM Tactical Radios



U.S Army Staff Sgt. Shelby Johnson, a squad leader with the 4th BCT, 10th Mountain Division, observes the area around Forward Operating Base Torkham, Afghanistan while wearing the Capability Set (CS) 13 communications suite. A new mid-tier radio known as MNVR will enhance future capability sets. (Photo by U.S Army)

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 13, 2014) — With the Army’s new tactical network, squads and platoons can share data and images, track friendly and enemy locations and stay connected while covering more ground. Now, the Army is advancing a new radio capability that will more seamlessly connect those units to their higher headquarters.

Known as the Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radios (MNVR), the system will allow Soldiers at the platoon and company levels to rapidly exchange digital information with battalion and brigade. With the recent approval of the program’s acquisition strategy and preparation for upcoming tests, the MNVR capability is on target for fielding with Capability Set (CS) 17. The Army’s network Capability Sets deliver an integrated communications package for the brigade combat team, providing voice and data at all echelons from the command post to the commander on-the-move to the dismounted Soldier.

“With Capability Sets, we now have a means of communications designed specifically for the squad and the rifleman,” said Capt. Alexander Marotta, deputy communications officer (S6) for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which is currently training with CS 13. “But we still need to have the capability for those people to be able to talk to their company, their battalion, and even sometimes to be able to talk to brigade.”

While current technologies support the exchange of position location information and other digital message traffic between small units and their higher headquarters, MNVR will multiply this capability by running high-bandwidth, government-owned waveforms including Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) and Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW).

The waveforms allow the radios to operate as “nodes” in a mobile, ad-hoc network to ensure secure wireless communication and networking services for mobile and stationary forces across complex terrain. Integrated into Army tactical vehicles, MNVR provides self-forming and self-healing communications. The radio also interoperates with the single-channel Rifleman and dual-channel Manpack radios that are fielded as part of Capability Sets.

“The MNVR radio will provide the Army with a critical mid-tier capability that will greatly enhance the overall network,” said Col. William R. Wygal, project manager for Tactical Radios.

A Non-Developmental Item (NDI) acquisition approach was used to award a competitive contract for initial MNVR radios in September 2013 to Harris Corporation, and the Army is now preparing to test the radios this fall. The test is scheduled for October through November and is designed to test the performance of the MNVR system in support of a Milestone C decision, which is necessary before the radio moves to the Full Rate Production (FRP) phase.

Feedback from the test will be used to make improvements to the radio in advance of another test, which is planned for the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 15.2 in spring 2015. At NIE 15.2, the radio will be tested for interoperability across joint services as well as how the system interfaces with the upper tier of the network provided by Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). Both tests will also measure performance of the waveforms, including message completion rates, latency and voice quality.

“We plan to do extensive testing on the MNVR system so that the radio performs as expected when it is fielded to Soldiers,” said Eric Goodman, product manager for MNVR.

The MNVR program was established after the Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) program was cancelled in 2011. By leveraging work that was already accomplished with the GMR program, including research and development efforts for porting waveforms to the Joint Tactical Networking Center (JTNC), the MNVR program will be able to procure and deliver a better radio. Using non-proprietary waveforms housed in the JTNC Information Repository (IR) ensures radio interoperability across the services, streamlines the development process and promotes greater affordability.

Under the NDI approach, the MNVR system uses previously developed hardware solutions from industry that are compatible with waveforms from the JTNC IR. The Army awarded a delivery order in the fall of 2013 for the first MNVR systems, following a rigorous full and open competition that included Army assessments of participating vendors’ manufacturing readiness, as well as evaluations of their hardware.

An initial set of radios is participating in a risk reduction test at the NIE 14.2 this month. The risk reduction test focuses on three key areas: Soldier usability, mid-tier networking and platform integration.

Soldiers evaluating MNVR at NIE 14.2 said the radio provided communications over greater distances and improved situational awareness of subordinate units.

“As a program, we are excited that NIE 14.2 has given us the opportunity to show the Army that the mid-tier capability has arrived,” said Pat Layden, deputy product manager for MNVR.

As the program works toward a FRP decision in Fiscal Year 2016, several other test events will take place, including laboratory evaluations, over-the-air testing, logistics assessments and operational testing. Many vehicles are planned to be used for certification and integration events including Strykers, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) and Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV).

All of the tests, as well as feedback from the NIEs, will enable the Army to plan for fielding requirements in 2017 and beyond. Compatible with legacy systems such as the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS), the MNVR radios will provide fielded units with enhanced connectivity between forces at the company and below echelons and their higher headquarters for more rapid distribution of data, imagery and other information.

“Providing Soldiers with the tools they need to communicate effectively is critical to their safety and mission success,” Goodman said. “The mid-tier radio enables better communication up and down the chain of command, giving Soldiers and leaders necessary information to make informed decisions.”

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