Military: Airborne, Networked Radio

By Geoff Fein | July 1, 2007
Send Feedback

As the U.S. military moved out of the shadows of the Cold War and into the global war on terror, it became apparent that new tactics and technologies would be needed to prevail against an adversary that doesn’t adhere to traditional combat roles.

As operations in Iraq have demonstrated, soldiers more than likely will be engaging enemies in urban settings, requiring advanced technologies to see around corners, on rooftops and down the road. That’s where aviation platforms provide an advantage to United States and coalition forces. Persistent surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence provide clear advantages.

But it isn’t enough to be able to just collect the information. In today’s battles, ground forces, pilots and sailors need real-time data to stay a step ahead. The information must be readily available to whoever needs it and will need to be shared not just among U.S. forces, but with coalition and allied partners as well.

A number of companies have embarked on developing network centric operations (or as more commonly known, network centric warfare). The concept runs the gamut from netting together aircraft, ships and ground troops through radios and satellite communications (satcom), to developing Google-like technologies that will enable warfighters to type in key words on a PDA and access information on both the enemy and friendly forces.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are leading efforts to design and develop the Airborne and Maritime/Fixed Station Joint Tactical Radio System (AMF JTRS) for the U.S. Defense Department. The Boeing team includes BBN Technologies, Harris, L-3 Communications, Milcom Systems Corp., Northrop Grumman and Rockwell Collins. The Lockheed Martin team includes BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

JTRS is a family of advanced communication systems expected to replace current radios in all the services and provide secure, Internet-like capabilities and networking to include voice, text, audio and video.

In 2004, Boeing won a 25-month, $81 million Pre-System Design and Development (SDD) contract. Lockheed Martin was awarded a 15-month, $51 million pre-SDD contract. The companies completed the SDD in October. JTRS moved to an incremental acquisition strategy last year, and both companies received contract extensions to continue program development.

Boeing also is developing the ground-based variant of JTRS, known as GMR for Ground Mobile Radio.

"The radio system is key for us," said John Lunardi, Boeing director of Network and Information Systems. "Being the incumbent on the ground radio, filling out the airborne tier is a tremendous opportunity for us in terms of pursuing our vision of integrating all of the various tiers.

"The old hardware radios, hardware-defined radios, had fixed frequencies. Right now, in the airborne element it is mainly Link 16, which has limited bandwidth and limited frequency," Lunardi said. "The AMF program is a multichannel software-defined radio that will enable a number of waveforms to be run in the air domain."

AMF JTRS involves more than a box, said Glenn Kurowski, AMF JTRS program director for Lockheed Martin.

"It is not a radio program. It is about the warfighter capability, and solutions that can go on platforms to enhance military effectiveness," Kurowski said. "What the program is all about is increasing the lethality of our forces through better situational awareness that they get through interoperability, through networking."

AMF JTRS is a multi-function radio with five waveforms. Boeing, however, is not developing any of the waveforms, Lunardi said.

The key feature of Boeing’s AMF JTRS is the radio’s ability to host legacy waveforms — allowing existing radios to talk to each other — and to bring Internet protocols to warfighters through the Wideband Network Waveband (WNW). The software-programmable radio also lowers total ownership costs for the military by replacing the numbers of radios with one that can handle various waveforms.

Most importantly, AMF JTRS will be running WNW, which is being developed on the GMR program.

"It is a big pipe. It allows information to be shared across multiple platforms with higher data rates, and it will also be able to communicate with the ground domain as well," Lunardi said. "So you will have ground forces, ground subnets, using WNW and communicating on the ground. They will also be using soldier radio wave form (SRW) in theater, and through the AMF program we will be able to communicate between the air and ground."

All of these efforts are designed to provide speed of information, speed of access and quality of information to get inside the enemy’s decision-making cycle, Lunardi said. "It gives us the upper hand in theater."

Lockheed Martin focused on demonstrating to the government the technical maturity of wideband communications, Kurowski said.

"The best way to do that is to transmit video and to transmit command and control at the same time, and situational awareness at the same time, so that you can actually see how to get quality of service on that dynamic network," Kurowski said. "Because once we start transmitting video, what we are looking at on that video is extremely important, especially if we are trying to do a battle damage assessment, or targeting, and we were able to demonstrate that."

Boeing said it successfully completed demonstrations that showcased interoperability between JTRS radios and radios currently used by joint forces. The demonstrations also validated the porting of key waveforms and successfully tested a 200-node network.

JTRS will transmit both voice and data. Boeing has demonstrated the capability on GMR, Lunardi noted. "Because (AMF JTRS) is an IP-enabled network, you will be able to run a multitude of applications," he said.

For example, on the GMR demonstrations, Boeing simultaneously ran up to seven different applications, all of which were commercial applications.

"We had a demonstration here recently where we were running maps, where people could write with colored pens on the maps and transmit that in real-time from a Stryker vehicle to the tactical operation center," Lunardi said. "You are able to run chat, voice, able to run FTP files. [We are] actually running video imagery. Seven simultaneous acts running real-time across the waveform. So it is really a powerful waveform. And if it is IP-enabled, your access to information that you can send is much broader than legacy systems."

The Lockheed Martin-led team flew its prototype system in the fall of 2006.

"We took our prototypes, our mature technology, and put it in a Huey helicopter, put it in a surrogate aircraft that functioned as a UAV, involved an off-the-shelf F-16, built a CAOC (combined air operations center) and did a warfighting scenario," Kurowski said. "We showed how a dynamic, mobile, ad hoc communications, which is what JTRS is all about, put into an operational, military-relevant scenario, will increase time to target and efficacy of weaponry on target."

With the live flight, Lockheed Martin was able to merge target discovery, processing and assessment, identify assets for strike, coordinate airspace for the strike asset to enter and assess the attack.

"The time to do all of that is just vastly accelerated when you can have a mobile, ad hoc network and all these entities are interconnected," Kurowski said. "That is what we showed."

Boeing also is in the process of developing network management for both GMR and AMF JTRS. Because the ground-based system is further along, AMF JTRS is leveraging and reusing much of the work to the maximum extent possible, Lunardi added.

Each AMF JTRS user will have a different level of access and different ranking within the system. Part of the policy setting is to identify the various policy levels for users, he said.

Developing a mobile radio system where radios can join or leave the network in real-time posed a number of technical challenges, Lunardi said.

"The technical challenge of dealing with a mobile ad hoc radio in theater was fairly significant, and as evidenced by our success on GMR, we’ve really learned a lot and accomplished a lot in making that successful," he said.

Network security and information assurance also posed significant challenges, Lunardi added.

"Obviously, if you look at what these radios do, they are in theater, in battlefield situations. There is a high degree of sensitivity of data that is coming across — position data, targeting data — and the ability to maintain security, and security not only for the radio but security for the network, is a major importance to the government and to the industry team that is building these radios," he said.

Another issue is that the services are always dealing with size, weight and power (SWAP) considerations. It’s always nice to have more power and to have a bigger footprint, Lunardi said.

"So there is a lot of effort always conducted on SWAP. But the success demonstrated, not only from GMR but from AMF, in our pre SDD program is a real testament to retiring a number of these risks," he said. "Technology has advanced over the last four years significantly and our plan is to reuse as much of that lesson learned, and technical progress as possible, for the AMF program."

Lockheed Martin had just completed an operational assessment of its common submarine radio room for Ohio-class submarines. A similar effort was completed for Virginia-class submarines. What is important here is that Lockheed Martin is taking that technical maturity from a proven successful program and applying it to AMF JTRS to buy down risk, Kurowski said.

"Automation, management and control of the radio room, that is part of AMF JTRS. It is actually independent of the actual radio. It’s the automation of the frequency planning, automation of how you control it, reduction in manpower required to do your communications — that’s what our program is about. It hasn’t been about invention. Our program has been about how to apply mature technologies with our experience in air, land and maritime platforms, to give a low-cost, low-risk solution to them."

Satcom tier

An effort that doesn’t get as much recognition as AMF JTRS but is of vital importance to the U.S. Air Force is the Family of Advanced Beyond line-of-sight Terminals (FAB-T). FAB-T provides strategic and command and control (C2) forces with the multi-mission capability of satcom terminals, Lunardi said.

"It’s really viewed as an information and communication system rather than a satcom radio terminal. The customer requested that it be modular, reconfigurable, scalable and upgradeable, hence this family of terminals," he said. "That will extend it to not only the platforms we have on Increment I, but also as we move into Increment II, and some of the other increments."

The U.S. Space and Missile Command is the customer for FAB-T.

According to Lunardi, the first version of Increment I had three objectives: replace Milstar command post terminals (both fixed and airborne); provide terminal support to C2 functions for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite; and provide EHF protected communications for strategic bombers, to replace their old UHF terminals.

The Increment I part of FAB-T called for protected communications, Lunardi said. "It is a survivable terminal. The customer set will include B-2, B-52 (aircraft) and RC 1235. That is the first family of platforms that will get the Increment I terminal.

"Increment I is somewhat unique in that there are unique things required for protected communications for the nuclear missions. And Increment I is where we will be doing the C2 for the AEHF function," he added. "When you get into Increment II, that now starts to look at terminal support for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions."

The first delivery of Increment I will go on a B-2 in December 2008, Lunardi said.

The idea is the service will have a three-tiered, networked battle space that links up and creates networks on the ground ranging from a dismounted soldier to a Stryker vehicle to a brigade to the operations command in theater on the ground. Above that, the services will have a networked airborne layer comprised of a network backbone that interfaces with the tactical edge — fast fliers and shooters, Lunardi said.

"So you have this ability to network information at the airborne tier with an airborne core using WNW and tactical edge waveforms and then you have the beyond line-of-sight tier, or the satcom tier, which would include things such as AEHF, Wide Band Gap Filler and ultimately TSAT (Transformational Communications Satellite System)," he said.

"And between the three tiers, now you are not only networking that domain but you are also creating the ability to network from the ground through the air to satcom and back to wherever you want to take it, back to CONUS (continental United States). The ability to have that amount of data seamlessly being transferred through an IP network, across all three tiers, is really the place Boeing is heading with these programs."

The trick is how to integrate these various networks. "To be fair, we aren’t there yet," Lunardi acknowledged.

"We are making tremendous progress on GMR in conjunction with the (Future Combat Systems) on the ground. When and if we win the AMF program, now we have the ability to have a broader footprint on the air domain, because both WNW and SRW are waveforms that are going to be shared on the ground and in the air domain and that creates a lot of opportunity to communicate with air and ground," Lunardi said.

"FAB-T is really the big pipe for reaching back and getting large amounts of data back up through a satellite and back to a user. Right now there isn’t a connection point between FAB-T, relative to sharing the same waveforms, but the way the radios are defined via software defined radio technology, it allows a lot of flexibility," he added.

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox