Army holds first terrain walk ahead of Manpack Radio test
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 2, 2014) -- Combining new Google Earth technology and old-fashioned walking, the Army used a creative approach to prepare for a key test on the Manpack Radio.

With the AN/PRC-155 Manpack Radio scheduled for a Follow-On Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) at the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 14.2 in May, the Handheld, Manpack, Small-form fit (HMS) program team wanted to address any potential concerns in advance. By using Google Earth and scouting areas on foot at Fort Bliss, Texas, the HMS team found a place to assess the effectiveness of the Manpack Radio in rugged terrain that was representative of the area where the radio will be tested during NIE. This "terrain walk" led to software updates to improve the radio's performance before it was delivered to Soldiers for the formal test.

"The NIEs enable us to continuously improve our products, such as the Manpack Radio," said Lt. Col. Rayfus Gary, product manager for HMS. "We want to make sure we are as prepared as possible so both Soldiers and the program office get the most out of the event."

Held at Fort Bliss, Texas and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the NIEs are semi-annual field exercises that use Soldier feedback to improve and simplify network systems. The information that is gathered from NIEs also plays a key role in designing and validating network Capability Sets (CS), which provide integrated voice and data communications across the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) formation.

The Manpack, the Army's first two-channel, software-defined radio capable of supporting advanced and current force waveforms, allows lower-echelon Soldiers carrying Rifleman Radios and Nett Warrior handheld devices to connect to the network backbone through the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) waveforms. Fielded as part of CS 13 and 14, the current AN/PRC-155 Manpack will conduct an FOT&E at NIE 14.2, as the Army now moves to execute a full and open competition to procure the next generation of the Manpack radios.

Based on user feedback and test results from previous NIEs, the Army has made continuous improvements to the Manpack radio system. Applying user feedback allowed the HMS program to ensure that the radio's most frequently used or critical features were easily and readily accessible to the Soldier.

In preparation for NIE 14.2, the program planned a terrain walk that would simulate an actual test event like the FOT&E. Since the team did not have access to the NIE operational site, they performed an extensive terrain analysis, using Google Earth and scouting the site on foot.

As part of the terrain walk, the HMS team tested how voice communications would perform using the Manpack Radio and two waveforms -- SINCGARS and SRW. The radio, which can be mounted on vehicles or carried, was tested in various dismounted positions, including standing, kneeling and prone.

"We went into rough and arduous terrain, and the radio performed as advertised," said Maj. Edgar Santana, assistant product manager HMS. "But we did find one anomaly."

This intermittent anomaly occurred when the radio operated at or near the maximum range using the SINCGARS waveform. As a result, the operator could not transmit under Push To Talk conditions, so a software 'patch' was added to correct the problem.

"We weren't sure if this would be a problem during an operational employment of the radio, but we didn't want to take the chance," Santana said. "Since the HMS Manpack is a software defined radio, it allows us the ability to respond quickly to issues and improve performance with minimal impact to the user."

By correcting the issue discovered during the terrain walk, the Manpack Radio is now better prepared for the upcoming NIE and future fieldings.

With the approval of the HMS acquisition strategy, the program is now moving forward to procure Manpack radios for the Full Rate Production phase of the program. Under a full and open competition approach, the Army will award contracts to multiple vendors, creating a radio marketplace where vendors will compete for delivery orders as needed, after they achieve technical and operational requirements.

The current Manpack Radio has already been fielded to Soldiers at the 2nd and 3rd BCTs of the 101st Airborne Division, and additional fielding is underway to BCTs in the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, 10th Mountain and 1st Armored Divisions as part of CS 14, with additional units scheduled for CS 15 and beyond.

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