Overcoming the sounds of silence: Rifleman Radio improves Soldier communication field
July 24, 2009
- Networked, software-driven radio allows Soldiers on the ground to communicate with commanders and other members of their team
Imagine you are trapped. An enemy is closing in, drawing closer each second. You can see safety 100 yards away, but in order to get there, you need the assistance of your team. Yet you dare not call out for fear of being detected.
Imagine you see your battle buddy in danger of being ambushed. If you call out, you risk revealing your position. The battle buddy is in danger, but the wrong move on your part could endanger the entire team.
Imagine you are in a life and death situation, and though you have some of the most advanced technology the nation has to offer as part of your arsenal, you lack a reliable, secure means of communication.
What do you do'
Through a partnership between the Communications, Electronics, Research, Development and Engineering Center, the CECOM Life-Cycle Management Command, the Program Manager Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Domain and the Joint Program Executive Office JTRS, the Army research and development community is addressing this problem through the introduction of the Rifleman Radio - a networked, software-driven radio that will allow Soldiers on the ground to communicate with commanders and other members of their team.
This might not seem like a major advancement, but for Soldiers in the field who've been reliant on hand motions to communicate vital information, the Rifleman Radio provides a means for secure communication that is not dependent on line of sight.
"To communicate with one another, a lot of Soldiers out there [the non-team leaders and the non-squad leaders] were buying off-the-shelf radios which are not secure," said Dinh Nguyen, a Software Engineering Center employee matrixed to the JGD LCM Office, working in the field engineering group. "So that's how this idea was conceived, so that every Soldier down to the lowest-ranked guy could have something that he could use to communicate to his other team leaders and squad leaders."
"If you have ever seen a movie like 'Blackhawk Down' or 'Saving Private Ryan' where the Soldiers are gesturing with their hands to communicate, that is still what American Soldiers do in the absence of a radio like the Rifleman Radio," said Michael Lebrun of Product Manager JTRS Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit.
Rifleman Radio leverages technology that was born through work done by CERDEC's Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate on the Soldier Level Integrated Communications Environment waveform. SLICE, which began more than a decade ago, was intended to provide a wireless communications environment for the dismounted Soldier.
Over subsequent years, CERDEC matured this technology until SLICE became a part of the program of record for every JTRS radio, handheld and vehicle-mounted.
The SLICE waveform, under the JTRS PM Network Enterprise Domain purview, is being developed as the official Soldier Radio Waveform. SRW is the direct descendant of SLICE. Much of the same software that was originally developed by S&TCD for SLICE is still in use for SRW.
"The JTRS radios are what we call 'software-defined radios,'" said Jeff Palumbo, JTRS Ground Domain Field Engineering and User Support lead. "So not only does it bring newer technology in terms of the networking capabilities, it is also extendable so that in a year or two, as new applications or modifications to the existing radio come out, they can be loaded onto the radio so that it has future growth capability built in."
"Virtually the whole functionality of that radio is now delivered through software, and this is something new," said Coleen Coughlin, division chief for Tactical Communications Division of the CERDEC Software Engineering Directorate. "We are assuming here that all of the software components will work seamlessly together. It's like a computer: you have the operating system and applications. The operating system is like the operating environment; the radio services would be applications, and other applications would be waveforms."
What this means is that the functionality of the radio lies in the software rather than the radio itself. In this way, much like with cell phones and other handheld communication devices, upgrades, enhancements and patches can be sent out across a network without necessitating replacement of the radio should it become outmoded.
"If there are any updates or changes, you usually have to ship the radios back to a contractor or a depot like Tobyhanna, where you have to replace physical pieces of the radio," Nguyen said. "If a software-defined radio has any kind of update, you can send the software to the Soldier in the field, and he can update the radio without having to waste time sending it back."
However, the real success of Rifleman will be in how it helps the Soldier on the ground.
"The radio itself is an NSA standard encrypted radio, so the transmissions are protected against an adversary who might want to listen in," Lebrun said. "This allows the Soldier to communicate by voice in a secure way that the adversary cannot intercept, and to use those voice communications to warn each other of threats or to coordinate movements."
In this way, the radio provides a significant force multiplier allowing for more rapid communication, more robust situational awareness and the ability to react in a more effective manner.
"The radio helps with force protection because now they have that digital voice and network capability that they didn't have before, so even when they can't see each other, they can still communicate," Lebrun said.
And because the radio is networked, there is no line-of-site requirement for communication among the team. This means that the Soldier can coordinate and communicate with any member of the networked team.
"Through the networking technology, it allows you to defeat the laws of physics. Now you can network around obstacles, things that would normally interfere with radio communication. Now as long as one radio can 'see' one other, the radios will network around and adapt to the enviornment," Lebrun said.
The Rifleman Radio was tested throughout the winter and spring.
"During our pre-LUT a couple of months ago, we tried to improve some of the processes we used with the Army Evaluation Task Force, which was our previous test of the Rifleman Radio," said Shawn Gennaria of the SED Data Distribution Systems Branch. "With AETF, we had all these clipboards and were collecting data to quantify metrics - things like the transmission rates and hop counts. During pre-LUT, we were able to streamline this data collection process by getting rid of the clipboards and using a custom database application deployed on several ultra-mobile personal computers. This allowed us to gather individual radio data and merge it in a single repository with seamless database synchronization."
"Basically, the radios are evolving, changing. Our team works closely with the contractors to address and mitigate software risks and to resolve any issues," Coughlin said. "Our concerns are with the software: the radio services, the operating environment and the waveforms."
The Rifleman Radio project is a joint venture that leverages the specific expertise of the various labs within the C4ISR community.
"We draw a great deal of our technical expertise from the CERDEC staff, as well as from PEO C3T. CERDEC has the history and expertise with developing the SLICE 2.1 waveform, which is now called SRW," Lebrun said.
"Within CERDEC, there is the software technical expertise that you have from SED as how to maintain and develop the user interface - anything dealing with software," Nguyen said.
However, it is the combined excellence of the C4ISR community that has made this advance possible. Within the working partnership, CERDEC's technical expertise has been joined with TRADOC, who represents the end user; JTRS holds the mission for developing and demonstrating the system; PEO C3T will be fielding and deploying the ground radios; and SEC and LRC, will oversee maintenance and support of the radios in the field.
"SEC and SED are the Army's center of expertise regarding C4ISR software sustainment. That's the value we will bring to sustainment of the JTRS radios. Because it's a software-defined radio, it's very easy to adapt our existing software processes and standards to support this radio," Coughlin said. "We support more than two-hundred systems with millions of lines of code. We have the infrastructure and expertise to sustain these radios in partnership with the JPEO."
"We are joint developers," Lebrun said. "Why reinvent expertise when we can leverage all that CERDEC and the rest of the Army can bring to bear'"