ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (September 16, 2014) -- With a radio in hand or mounted in a vehicle, Soldiers spread across the battlefield can send messages, images and video to commanders who may be miles away. The commanders can gather the information, make quick decisions and send back orders, paving the path for a successful mission.

Before these advanced radios are fielded, they undergo rigorous testing both individually and as part of the Army's larger tactical communications network. Much of the testing is conducted at the Unified Lab for Tactical Radios - Army (ULTR-A) facility, a central hub where three Army organizations share knowledge, equipment and resources. Following its opening earlier this year, the ULTR-A facility has continued to grow and cemented key partnerships in preparation for critical rounds of upcoming tests and the growing demand for tactical radio sustainment.

"The lab operates like a small community, sharing information and assets across organizational lines," said Ben Foresta, ULTR-A facility manager and Product Manager Handheld, Manpack and Small-form Fit (PdM HMS) sustainment technical lead. "This allows us to streamline efforts and ultimately save time and money."

Located on the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) campus at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the ULTR-A facility combines personnel and resources from the Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) and Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC). Within the lab, each team has a designated space where it operates, enabling teams to collaborate and leverage each other when there is a need. Everyone is driven by the same goal -- to field the best, most reliable radios to Soldiers.

From PEO C3T, PdM HMS, Product Manager Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radios (PdM MNVR) and the Joint Tactical Network Center (JTNC) teams already have established capabilities within the lab; the Product Manager Airborne, Maritime/ Fixed Station (PdM AMF) team will join the lab in the near future.

These programs are already beginning to see the benefit of collocating assets and resources. Most notably, the test teams from CERDEC, CECOM and the PdMs have begun sharing best practices, test methodologies, test procedures and tools; the result is more timely data collection and reporting and more overall technical rigor.

"We are developing a test plan to use as a guideline, as well as tools and traffic scenarios that can be repeated over and over," said James Ford, HMS field engineering team lead. "With a repeatable process, we can identify a problem, recreate it, identify root cause and solve the problem."

Interoperability among systems and echelons is essential for the Army's communications network. The MNVR team is planning to integrate its wideband networking capability with the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), the Army's high capacity mobile tactical communications network, and Mission Command systems. The MNVR radio, which runs high-bandwidth, government-owned waveforms including the Wideband Networking Waveform and Soldier Radio Waveform, enables the exchange of position location information and other digital message traffic between small units and their higher headquarters.

"The ULTR-A facility allows multiple PdMs to work as one and uncover and improve the interactions between systems," said Chris Amos, MNVR lab team lead.

"From an end-user perspective, we want all of the elements in the Army network to work together because that is how it is fielded to Soldiers," Foresta said. "Combined development and testing from the research and development, Project Manager (PM) and sustainment communities allows us to find issues earlier and reduce defect discovery after fielding."

ULTR-A is also working to build a software sustainment environment for HMS radios that were procured in the Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) phase 2 of the HMS program. As part of the program life cycle, a system typically moves from LRIP to Full Rate Production (FRP) and then into sustainment. The CECOM Software Engineering Center sustainment team will utilize this capability to perform sustainment planning and execution for PdM HMS.

"The new sustainment environment is a big departure from how we currently do work, and it will be a robust thread," Foresta said. "It will allow us to replicate problems seen in the field and then drive new fixes and patches back out into the field."

The HMS team will be the first group to leverage the sustainment partnership by sustaining radios that were procured under the LRIP-2, including the AN/PRC- 154 and 154A Rifleman Radios and AN/PRC-155 Manpack Radios. The Rifleman Radio is a lightweight, rugged, handheld radio that transmits voice and data via the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW), and the Manpack Radio is the Army's first two-channel data radio that uses multiple current and advanced waveforms.

The Army has procured 21,379 Rifleman Radios and 5,326 Manpack Radios through LRIP-2. As the HMS program moves into FRP, the ULTR-A facility will sustain these radios, as well.

"For the first time you have the PMs, CECOM, the communications lifecycle management arm, and CERDEC, which is the research arm, all residing in the same spot," Foresta said. "We have a very talented group of people working together and building capabilities -- a work in progress."