By Ray RaganDecember 5, 2014
The U.S. Army Electronic Proving Ground's (USAEPG) new Tactical Radio Center is supporting Product Manager, Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radio (PdM MNVR) in testing the Army's next-generation radio systems here.
The next-generation radios are fundamentally different than past military radios. These radios use software to control many of their functions and behave more like a wireless data network. By using the Wideband Networking Waveform and the Soldier Radio Waveform, the MNVR system transmits information, including data, voice, images and video across complex terrain.
These radios offer "smart" features like finding the best route between a sender and receiver, self-healing if a transmitter is unavailable and faster data speeds, according to Capt. Justin Seehusen, assistant product manager for MNVR.
"It [the radio] allows a Soldier to receive data quicker, more efficiently and share it across a wider platform," said Seehusen.
"I remember building overlays when I was deployed and it takes forever to upload them and to pass them around, [and] this radio can do that instantaneously -- almost," he added, referring to annotations on a map, often called 'overlays' among Soldiers.
"As an Army test center, we are looking for ways to assist our program managers to 'shift left' and this Tactical Radio Center enabled just that," said USAEPG Commander Col. Ray Compton.
Compton explained that 'shifting left' is a concept where testing is done earlier in the product or system development lifecycle. Working with the managers of these systems for earlier testing helps inform decision-making in acquisition and ensure systems are ready to move to operational testing and eventually fielding.
The Tactical Radio Center also worked in conjunction with the Product Manager's Tactical Radio Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, loading configurations from the lab and quickly providing field results back to the lab at Aberdeen. Also, this virtual connectivity of APG and USAEPG allows the PM to better test their product from lab to range, Compton added.
USAEPG Test Officer, Mark Butler, who performed the developmental test for PdM MNVR, said the Tactical Radio Center became a needed addition to test support offered at USAEPG, as the Army continues to test the newest generation of Army radios.
"They [the radios] get checked out to make sure they have the right software, the software's functioning correctly, the radio's functioning correctly and we do this for all radios in this program," he said.
Butler explained that the Tactical Radio Center supports loading software for these radios, not only for testing at Fort Huachuca, but also for PdM MNVR testing and integration elsewhere, with future testing goals like testing at the Army's Network Integration Event.
"It's basically a functional verification test, and then we create record jackets for each radio and then we'll end up shipping the radios to anywhere they are needed [for testing]," said Butler.
"We send them to Stryker and Bradley PdMs for integration [testing] into those platforms," he added.
MNVR is a vehicle-mounted data system that bridges communications and data between higher echelons, like battalions and brigades with smaller, more tactical-sized elements like companies. The radio allows data transport for many of the commonly used mission command and situational awareness systems in use today on the battlefield, while offering data capacity for systems of the future.
According to Seehusen, in order to rigorously test MNVR, it was important to bring testing to USAEPG, which offers the open range space and radio frequency spectrum to conduct large-scale tests.
"You've got the airspace to go over the air with radios, you've got the instrumentation, data reduction, and expertise in anything that has to do with electronic effects -- [at USAEPG] it can be a one-stop-shop," said Seehusen.
The testing relationship between PdM MNVR and USAEPG has evolved and grown due to the Army's testing requirements explained Test Engineer for PdM MNVR, Joe Sweeney.
"To a large extent because of the knowledge base that has been built-up, you can … know what things may surface [during a test]," he said.
Sweeney explained that the expanded knowledge base is helpful when testing complex systems such as the MNVR capability. He also noted that the Tactical Radio Center contributes to the knowledge base that enables radios to be configured and managed, and it allows testers to validate findings from other tests and laboratory results.
By moving between open-air testing and controlled, bench testing, this next generation radio was tested more quickly and with more detail, which resulted in more refined test processes and methods. All of the testing contributes to the thorough testing that the Army conducts before fielding its systems to Soldiers.
"Our radio is built specifically for survivability, redundancy and efficiency for Soldiers on the ground - it's seamless," Seehusen concluded.