By Mr. Jason Bock (AMC)May 16, 2008
The Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) family of radios, which for two decades has provided U.S. Soldiers with a secure method for voice and data communication, is fast becoming the conduit for the Army's most recent anti-fratricide capability effort.
The Radio-Based Combat Identification (RBCI) process currently being pursued by the Army will allow Soldiers to use radio signals to interrogate the location of friendly forces. The RBCI is a component of the Advanced System Improvement Program (ASIP) radio, the current edition of SINCGARS which is growing toward and an inventory level of 300,000.
By fiscal year 2009, every unit in the Active and Reserve Component of the Army will have at least some quantity of ASIP radios and with it, a SINCGARS-based fratricide reduction capability.
"The SINCGARS software to implement this capability is in final development," said Col. Cris Boyd, Project Manager for the Army's Project Manager Tactical Radio Communications Systems (PM TRCS). "After completion of validation testing, a decision to implement will be made by the operational commanders in the respective theaters of operation."
The RBCI capability has been demonstrated to perform exactly as expected, with technology growth through maturity, according to Boyd. It was tested in a Joint Coalition Combat Identification Advanced Concepts Technology Demonstration and at Bold Quest in 2005.
RBCI represents the latest in a series of advancements since the INternet Control (INC) router was introduced to the SINCGARS family in 1997, contributing significantly to the program's Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities and involvement with transport of Army Battle Command System (ABCS) data.
"This is an excellent example of a spiral development program, accomplished by Government and Industry" said James Bowden, the Army's technical lead for SINCGARS. "We have constantly improved this product since day one."
The exact same SINCGARS box a young soldier stuffed in his rucksack and carried into Operation Desert Storm could very well have found its way into the pack of a Warfighter deploying to Baghdad during Operation Enduring Freedom.
A prime reason for radio's involvement in every U.S. Army action since 1988 is a software-based design and extremely flexible and adaptable plug-in architecture, which has allowed SINCGARS to grow with the Army's communication needs. The system originally designed for voice transmission now features some level of compatibility with over 60 Army Systems, as well as ground components of all of the DoD uniformed Services.
SINCGARS has always used a Very High Frequency (VHF) band - the most robust band for voice communications - and remains the primary voice control radio for soldiers Battalion level and below. Over time, it has evolved from a hardware-driven module to the current ASIP radio with a software base that allows a smaller and lighter design. The current man pack radio weighs roughly eight pounds, with excellent reliability expectations in the field.
"People are under the misconception that SINCGARS is 1970s technology," said Bowden, who has worked with SINCGARS since 1988, within the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications Tactical (PEO C3T), PM TRCS. "Through product enhancements and obsolescence redesign efforts, we have continued to keep this radio always up to date with improved components and reduced size and heat dissipation."
Two empty card slots in the current ASIP model allow for the inclusion of an Embedded GPS Receiver (EGR) that can be operated while in the rucksack with a handset attachment. An additional read out unit displays the position of any contact that also employs a GPS plug-in to their SINCGARS radio. That technology is a key to the development of the anti-fratricide RBCI process.
The EGR can relay individual positioning information to an apache helicopter, a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) or any forward observer with a Pocket-Sized Forward Entry Device (PFED). Testing is currently being conducted for EGR to transmit a complete battle field picture through a software patch on Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below Blue Force Tracker (FBCB2 BFT), the Army's digital Battle Command information system.
"This capability provides an anti-fratricide identification and complements other existing systems," Boyd said. "Determinations of when it may be most useful and when it may be least useful are heavily driven by the concurrent availability of these other complimentary systems."
Another add-on of the RBCI family is a responder box that, when hooked up to a GPS receiver, can display a complete picture of RBCI equipped forces on a allied vehicle.
The vehicular remote control unit is another SINCGARS additional hardware piece easily installed in a vehicle dashboard to provide full function remote control of two radios anywhere on a platform. A prime example is the Tactical Fire Fighting Truck (TFFT), where the SINCGARS radio is installed in a box outside the cab. A vehicular remote control box located on the dash allows the operator of the vehicle to control his radio from within the cab.
"SINCGARS is a lot more than a voice command and control radio," Bowden said. "It is software controlled and all these kinds of enhancements have grown out of the ability to reprogram and improve this radio over time."
SINCGARS remains a component of the Army's Tactical Internet (TI). Its INC acts as a router for the process that sends information from a GPS through FBCB2 and out over the air through the Enhanced Position and Location Reporting System (EPLRS).
EPLRS is a communications system that transmits the data for all digitized units. The only place where there is an exception to this is in the Army's first digitized units, where the Wingmen in a tank platoon still use SINCGARS radios as the transmission path up to the platoon leader then the data is carried over EPLRS.
SINCGARS is the communications system for a separate Tactical Internet for Fire Support that uses the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems (AFATDS) computer and the INC as a router.
"There's a misconception that when JTRS (the Joint Tcatical Radio System) comes along SINCGARS goes away," Bowden said. "SINCGARS is one of the base waveforms for JTRS. VHF voice is still the most robust channel for voice. SINCGARS will be a round for a long time, interoperating with JTRS."