ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 28, 2022) - At the heart of the Army’s flexible tactical network is its radios, with specific variants fielded to Soldiers based on mission need.
The Integrated Tactical Network (ITN) is the overarching network capability that relies on these radios, and for Soldiers at the edge, commercial single channel radios are their primary means of communication. Procuring these radios requires a process that will help field these radios as expeditiously as possible, and at the right price.
The middle-tier acquisition process (MTA) meets this demand.
“When it was time to upgrade the ITN’s existing single channel radios, we turned to the MTA process, which allows our program the flexibility to develop and field our products more rapidly than the traditional acquisition pathway,” said Maj. Alexandre Anderson, assistant product manager within the Project Manager Tactical Radios (PM TR) portfolio, under Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).
The MTA process, with rapid prototyping and rapid fielding designations, allows the Army Acquisition Executive to determine if a program office can place its capability on a more flexible acquisition path to meet emerging military needs. The tactical radios program office first received approval for rapid prototyping by demonstrating ITN in an operational environment and ensuring operational viability within five years of an approved environment.
In July of 2020, ITN Capability Set 21 capabilities were the first in the Army to transition from MTA rapid prototyping to rapid fielding status, meeting the requirement to begin production within six months, with the requirement to complete fielding within five years.
“Because we had already prototyped the commercial components of the ITN, we were able to quickly transition them to fielding,” Anderson said.
The ITN is comprised of commercial components injected into the Army’s tactical network to provide maneuver brigades with smaller, lighter and more flexible communications systems. It consists of both two-channel Manpack and Leader radios along with the single channel radio, all of which support the TSM waveform.
The TSM waveform is a modernized mesh networking waveform, meaning it is comprised of a group of devices that act as a single network that support IP data and voice simultaneously in tactical dynamic environments. It provides connectivity between all of the ITN radios and the Nett Warrior end-user device for on-screen, dismounted situational awareness. It also provides Soldiers with the ability to transmit voice, data and video in a Secure But Unclassified network environment for easier coalition partner sharing, Anderson said.
As industry partners reacted to the need for an innovative waveform solution, procurement options opened up for the Army.
“As the single channel radio competition heated up, the Army assessed multiple vendors and selected the capabilities that offered the best performance and value to the government,” said Col. Garth Winterle, PM TR project manager, assigned to PEO C3T. “Through competition and implementing the MTA process, our team cut procurement cost in half and doubled our buying power.”
The MTA process also provided significant cost savings for the Company Level Tactical Radio Integration Kit (CO TRIK) procurement. The CO TRIK, managed by PM Integrated Visual Augmented System (IVAS) as a partner in the ITN effort, integrates the ITN’s radio variants to create a single battlefield network.
“PM IVAS analyzed various technology options that met the requirement, allowing them to switch from a server stack-based solution to a laptop-based solution that lowered unit costs nearly 90 percent,” Anderson said.
For PM TR, implementing the MTA process has both expedited the acquisition process and helped set parameters for the Army to pursue different vendors for identified capabilities, and subsequently, cut per-unit costs.
“By having a flexible acquisition path, we don’t have to wait years to talk to our industry partners and we are not locking in vendors,” Winterle said. “We can partner with them in real-time to ensure Soldiers have the latest, most effective networked-radio technology available.”
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.