FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. (June 13, 2016) -- Soldiers in a densely wooded forest hold their positions as the enemy quickly approaches. Shots are fired, but minutes later, the Soldiers are told to cease fire.

Using blank ammunition, Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) participated in a realistic operational scenario as part of testing to support the procurement of the Army's next generation hand-held Rifleman Radio (RR). This excursion took place at the United States Army Electronic Proving Ground (USAEPG), Fort Huachuca, Ariz. May 16-26.

The excursion is part of the Rifleman Radio Customer Test (CT) and serves as the next step in advancing the Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) program toward procuring next-generation radios to support the Full Rate Production (FRP) phase of the program.

"The excursion is a great opportunity to get feedback from Soldiers early on in the process so that we can influence the design of the radio and correct any deficiencies prior to the Operational Test," said LTC Rayfus Gary, product manager for HMS.

The CT is the next phase in the Rifleman Radio procurement process, following the initial Qualification Testing (QT). The Army plans to conduct tests throughout the procurement process in order to ensure the radios meet all performance and operational requirements. Vendors that do not meet qualifications will be off-ramped.

Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (ID/IQ) contracts for the Rifleman Radio were awarded to Harris Corporation and Thales Defense and Security, Inc. in 2015. These contracts support the program's Non-Developmental Item (NDI) acquisition strategy. With the NDI approach, vendors use their own research and development resources to develop radios. After the initial contract award, vendors will compete for delivery orders as determined by the Army.

After contracts were awarded for the Rifleman Radio, each vendor provided radios, which were tested in laboratories to ensure threshold requirements were met. After passing this initial test, the government purchased 100 radios from each vendor for the CT. The CT was conducted at USAEPG and included the excursion with three scenarios -- in elevated and urban areas, as well as dense vegetation. Ensuring the excursion was as realistic as possible, the Soldiers were divided into two platoons and used weapons, blank ammunition and full uniform with vests. The first two days of the excursion included training the Soldiers on how to use the radio and its capabilities.

During the dense vegetation portion of the excursion, Soldiers from each platoon moved between two sites, covering various checkpoints and simulating an enemy incursion. Using the Rifleman Radio, Soldiers were able to talk, while leaders were able to track individual Soldiers' movements with Position Location Information.

A key feature of the Rifleman Radio is the voice talk call group that can be tailored for each team. The voice talk call group allows Soldiers to communicate within their group, while simultaneously monitoring other talk groups. By using the Talk Selector Switch, Soldiers can remotely switch between call groups.

"We really benefitted from trying different talk groups, particularly since it enabled me to talk to and direct all the leaders that reported to me," said Staff Sgt. Michael Lemanski, 101st Airborne Division, Pathfinder Company, who was in charge of one of the platoons. "In the dense vegetation, the radio was crystal clear, and I could talk to and direct all the leaders without any confusion or anyone talking over each other."

At the end of each day, Soldiers provided detailed feedback via a survey and focus groups. The survey included providing comments on installing batteries, attaching the antenna, connecting cables to the radio, powering up the radio, activating radio controls, understanding displayed information, loading a mission plan and loading Communications Security (COMSEC) keys.

"My favorite feature of the Rifleman Radio is the grids, so if you don't have a GPS or Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR), you hit 'grid' on the radio and it comes up and tells you where you are at all times," said Lemanski.

The Rifleman Radio is a lightweight, hand-held radio that transmits voice and data past terrain obstacles by creating a mesh network via the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW). Carried by Soldiers at the platoon, squad and team levels, the Rifleman Radio uses the SRW to transmit information up and down the chain of command. As a critical component of the Lower Tactical Network, the Army has already purchased 21,379 Rifleman Radios through Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP), and it is authorized to purchase up to 171, 933 more radios through FRP.

"The Soldier excursion is a crucial activity that will help the Army with an LRIP buy decision later this calendar year," said Col. James Ross, project manager for Tactical Radios. "We will use the Soldier feedback to not only support that buy decision but to also inform the requirements community who writes the concept of operations, the operational community who will employ the capability and industry."

The Rifleman Radio will be tested with the Nett Warrior end user device later this year. The Nett Warrior is a secure Android phone that links to the Rifleman Radio and gives Soldiers access to mission-related applications, as well as the ability to track one another's locations using GPS technology.