Software Defined Radios allow Soldiers to adapt to cyber threats

By Argie Sarantinos-Perrin, Project Manager Tactical Radios, PEO C3TOctober 20, 2014

Battalion commander executes training mission with Rifleman Radio.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A battalion commander at a recent Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) executes a training mission equipped with a Rifleman Radio. The Army's newest radios rely on waveforms that provide secure wireless networking services for mobile and stationary f... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Soldier uses Rifleman Radio and Nett Warrior at the Army's Capability Set (CS) 13 at Nangalam Base, Afghanistan.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A Soldier uses the Rifleman Radio and Nett Warrior at the Army's Network Capability Set (CS) 13 at Nangalam Base, Afghanistan. By using the Soldier Radio Waveform, the Rifleman Radio enables Soldiers to send messages, access mission-related applicati... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Oct. 15, 2014) -- Armed with Rifleman Radios and Nett Warrior devices, Soldiers spread across the battlefield can exchange voice messages, data and images, track friendly and enemy locations and stay connected in real time. The networking waveforms that connect the radio "box" and the Army network provide robust cyber protection and performance improvements, alleviating the need to provide each Soldier a new radio when a threat is detected.

As the Army delivers the next generation of software-defined radios (SDRs), it is also advancing the waveforms that enable these radios to communicate. The waveforms are integral to continuously improving the Army's tactical communications network, enabling faster upgrades to increase security and add capability.

"As the Army scales down, there is a greater need to cover more ground with fewer Soldiers, so as the Soldiers spread out, we provide radios that link them together and enable leaders to keep track of their Soldiers' locations to keep them safe," said Col. James Ross, project manager for Tactical Radios. "The waveforms are the key to making that digital communication possible."

Providing the link

The waveforms, which are maintained within the Information Repository (IR), facilitate both configuration management and distribution to accelerate, integrate, test and field the tactical networking SDRs. The IR is managed by the Joint Tactical Networking Center (JTNC), which works closely with the Project Manager Tactical Radios (PM TR) and the radio vendor community. The community consists of industry partners that can fill the hardware "box" requirements, while leveraging the government-owned waveforms in the IR. The Non Developmental Item (NDI) acquisition strategy, which opens competition to industry, will ensure interoperability between different vendor systems.

The waveforms and radios undergo a rigorous process to become National Security Agency (NSA) Type I and Type II information security certified. NSA certification is especially important to provide Soldiers with secure and encrypted information that cannot be broken by the enemy.

"With common waveforms, improvements can be made to the radios without deploying new hardware to the field," said Dave Williamson, product manager, waveforms. "That also helps with cyber protection, as we adjust to stay in front of the threat."

The Software Communications Architecture (SCA) and Application Programming Interface (API) standards provide the framework and parameters that enable the radios to load waveforms, run applications and successfully interoperate across an integrated system. By setting up a single software baseline, a waveform can be efficiently ported to different hardware platforms, providing similar results and interoperability. This not only fosters interoperability among radios, but the established software baseline reduces the overall cost of ownership since any changes are made (performance or cyber) only once in a single baseline, which can quickly be implemented in a hardware platform Operating Environment update for fielded radios.

Since the waveforms are Internet Protocol (IP) based, they can interoperate with other IP based networks. For example, the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) provide a seamless network interface with existing Department of Defense network infrastructures, such as the Warfighter Information Network -- Tactical (WIN-T). WIN-T is the Army's tactical network backbone providing the satellite and terrestrial communications network that allows Soldiers to send and receive information.

The waveforms are loaded and configured through the Joint Enterprise Network Manager (JENM), using Radio Configuration Files (RCFs). After the radio network planner completes the network plan, the JENM application translates the mission data into the format required for each radio and then downloads the configuration files directly onto the radios. Alternatively, instead of downloading the RCFs directly to the radios, JENM can also download the RCFs to a Simple Key Loader (SKL). If a Soldier needs to configure a radio, he uses the SKL to download the correct RCFs.

Legacy and Software-Defined Radios

While the Army is procuring the next generation of SDRs, it continues to use legacy radios, such as the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS). SINCGACRS, which have been fielded to Soldiers since 1988, provide voice and data communications and can be mounted in platforms, including aircraft, as well as carried in backpacks or handheld.

SDRs are capable of loading and supporting multiple waveforms, including several legacy waveforms such as SINCGARS to support mission needs, thereby providing more flexibility. By drawing on a larger part of the available spectrum, the SDRs give Soldiers at the tactical edge a continuous stream of voice, data, images and video to use to execute the mission.

Two of the newer SDRs have already begun fielding. The Manpack Radio, which is delivered in vehicle-mounted and dismounted configurations, is the Army's first networking radio that provides two channels for communications. With two channels, the Manpack Radio can run different waveforms simultaneously, eliminating the need for more than one radio at any location. The Manpack Radio uses the SRW, SINCGARS, Ultra High Frequency Satellite Communications (UHF SATCOM) and the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) waveforms. The MUOS waveform provides leap-ahead capability by using satellites, similar to cell phone towers in space, that allow Soldiers to have voice, data and network connectivity from almost any point on Earth.

The Rifleman Radio, a single-channel handheld radio that runs the SRW, is used by dismounted troops to send messages, access mission-related applications and track one another's locations with Global Positioning System (GPS) by linking to the Nett Warrior, an Android phone type device.

"While non-networking radios, serve a purpose, the radios can't route and retransmit information like the newer radios, so digital communications are limited," Ross said. "The radios and waveforms work together to deliver real time information so commanders can make informed decisions on the battlefield."

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