ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND (APG), Md. (February 25, 2021) – Army paratroopers execute rapid deployments, parachute assaults and combat operations under all conditions and in all environments - making them the ideal troops to evaluate and test the Army’s modernized radio communication equipment.
Paratroopers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (1–504 PIR), 82nd Airborne Division did just that during the recently concluded Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) Initial Operational Test (IOT&E) for the Army’s two-channel Manpack and Leader radios.
During the event held last month at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the 1–504 PIR provided candid feedback, coupled with instrumented technical test data captured by the Army’s Operational Test Command (OTC), that addressed voice quality, form and fit and operator training. The feedback and technical data will allow the Army to determine the effectiveness, suitability, and survivability of both radio lines. The determinations will be weighed as part of technical maturity, operational relevance and affordability considerations to inform a full-rate production decision for the radios later this year.
“Two-years’ worth of lab- and field-based risk reduction events leading up to the test allowed us to incrementally refine radio capabilities, but nothing can match the high-tempo, mission-driven environment of an operational test,” said Lt. Col. Raymond Yu, product manager for HMS, part of Project Manager Tactical Radios (PM TR) and assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).
The test featured three 72-hour missions by the 1-504 PIR, encompassing offense, defense and movement to contact against a robust opposing force, which included electronic warfare and cyber capabilities. The testers collected data from Soldiers by way of Mission Effectiveness Round Tables, with Soldiers answering a series of questions by stakeholders following each days’ events.
OTC also deployed a team with the unit to collect field reports, which were correlated with other operational test data to help assess operational reliability, availability and maintainability. To complement Soldier feedback, testers used various data-collection software and hardware, where they harvested information at the end of each mission from each device and compiled it into usable formats.
Understanding the need for predictable communications from the drop zone to the ensuing mission, paratroopers identified radio functions that exceeded expectations. Leaders reaffirmed the effectiveness of both the two-channel tactical radios, new mesh networking waveforms and the operational benefit of beyond line-of-sight capability using the Mobile Objective User System (MUOS) tactical SATCOM implementation. In addition to extending communication range for spread-out dismounted maneuver formations, MUOS also enhanced inter-echelon communication as well as disadvantaged environments.
While encouraged by the paratroopers’ positive feedback for overall communications enhancements, the unit also provided objective assessments to help identify areas for an improved suitability and operational experience.
"We learned a lot by listening to users,” said Col. Garth Winterle, Project Manager for TR, assigned to PEO C3T. “We have an aggressive improvement plan for things like improved cable and power management, along with battery logistics operations at the company level.”
Several of these improvements are already in progress, and the resulting capabilities will be utilized by the unit once they enter their Joint Readiness Training Center combat training readiness rotation in March, where developers will gather additional feedback on operational use and system improvements.
To help address other feedback and operational test observations, the program office is working to improve radio training by reviewing Soldier training packages for ease of understanding and to ensure better troubleshooting, engaging vendors in hardware and software improvements.
“We don’t enter these events with a ‘pass or fail’ mentality,” said Lt. Col. Greg Napoli, Unified Network team lead, Network-Cross Functional Team. “The Army development community uses feedback from operational assessments and events leading up to the culminating operational test to help improve products and understand operational capability. By fostering relationships with the Army’s acquisition and test communities, and teaming with operational units, we will be able to incrementally improve and safely field the capabilities required to meet Army modernization priorities.”