By Argie Sarantinos-Perrin, PM Tactical Radios Staff WriterJune 6, 2014
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 6, 2014) -- Recycling paper and plastic is one way to be more green. The Army, however, is going green on a different scale -- by recycling radio equipment.
By reusing equipment from the Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) program, which was cancelled in 2011, in a new test facility for future products, the Army's Project Manager Tactical Radios (PM TR) is saving time and resources. Much of the equipment, which includes oscilloscope probes, directional couplers, signal generators and a spectrum analyzer, has been moved to the Unified Lab for Tactical Radios - Army (ULTRA), where it will be used to test radios.
"With this equipment, my team is able to troubleshoot and perform tests more precisely," said Lt. Col. Rayfus Gary, Handheld, Manpack and Small-form Fit (HMS) product manager. "We evaluate the radios up front and see if they meet specifications before we send them further on."
Before the Army's latest software-defined radios are fielded, they must go through rigorous testing both individually and as part of the holistic Army tactical network. With equipment from the GMR program, the HMS team is creating a full test station at the ULTRA lab, which will be used to test the Manpack Radio, as well as the Rifleman Radio.
The ULTRA lab, which is located on the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) campus at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., is a joint venture between three Army organizations -- the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), Program Executive Office Command, Control Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) and Communications-Electronics, Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC). By combining personnel and resources from three organizations, the ULTRA lab team will not only ensure that current and future radios are properly maintained and integrated into the network, but it will also provide evolving support throughout the lifecycle of the radios.
The test stations at the ULTRA lab will be used to evaluate and validate vendors' radios that are submitted in response to Army Requests for Proposals (RFPs). A draft RFP for the Rifleman Radio was released in May, and the HMS team will test vendors' radios in the ULTRA lab to determine which meet requirements. Once the test station is operable, it will be shared with the other PM TR product managers -- Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radios (MNVR) and Airborne Maritime Fixed Station (AMF).
"While each product manager is procuring different radios, we consolidate resources to field the best radios to Soldiers," said Col. William R. Wygal, project manager for tactical radios. "The whole program benefits when we piggyback on the efforts of one of our teams."
By incorporating the reused GMR program equipment into the ULTRA lab, tests that were normally performed elsewhere, such as those at Ft. Huachuca, Ariz., can now be done in house. The reused equipment also enables the HMS team to reach a key goal -- automating tests. With automation, tests can be performed faster and the risk of error is reduced.
"Our goal is to automate as many tests as possible for radios, Radio Frequency (RF) components, radio cables and antenna tests, especially now that we are going to full and open competition for both the Rifleman and Manpack Radios," said Josean Alvarez, lead integration engineer for the HMS Technical Management Division. "It will help us evaluate the radios and determine which radio out performs another or which radio has better audio quality."
The reused equipment includes higher-priced items, such as spectrum analyzers, signal generators, network analyzers, oscilloscopes, National Instruments PXI and SCXI chassis and power supplies. Other lower-priced items include: racks that hold equipment and allow easy access, multi-meters, power meters, frequency meters and low frequency function generators.
Other items, such as attenuator modules that are being reused, help to bring down a signal by at least 20 decibels, which can convert power from 20 Watts to a 0.2 Watt signal or even lower, if using a directional RF coupler or another RF attenuator in series. These attenuator modules are helpful and necessary to avoid exceeding the maximum input power to the test equipment.
For example, if a signal from a high-power Manpack Radio that produces 20 Watts is sent to a spectrum analyzer that can allow up to one Watt of input power, then the power is too great and the spectrum analyzer will suffer serious damage that would require repairs. However, by sending the signal through an attenuator module, the signal is attenuated from 100-10,000 times and the signal can be measured safely and accurately.
"Since we did not have to purchase the equipment, we used the money to fund a software test to help certify the new firmware build for the Manpack Radio. In addition to saving money, we also save time since we don't have to wait to procure the RF equipment to start setting up the test stations in the ULTRA Lab," Alvarez said. "Also, since we normally had operators at another location perform these tests, we can accomplish our goal, which is to perform most of these tests in the ULTRA lab."
The two-channel Manpack Radio is one of the radios that the HMS team is procuring. It is the Army's first two-channel, software-defined radio capable of supporting advanced and current force waveforms, allowing lower-echelon Soldiers carrying Rifleman Radios or legacy radios to connect to the network backbone through the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) or Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) waveforms, respectively.
The Rifleman Radio is a lightweight, rugged, hand-held radio that transmits voice and data via the SRW. With the SRW, the Rifleman Radio acts as its own router and allows information to be transmitted up and down the chain, as well as providing network access for Nett Warrior. Nett Warrior is an Android-based, smartphone-like capability that enables Soldiers to send messages, access mission-related applications and track one another's locations with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.
The Army plans to procure both the Manpack and Rifleman Radios using a competitive Non-Developmental Item acquisition strategy, aligning with its goal to create a "radio marketplace."