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'PRRs': Assured Tactical Connectivity
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'PRRs': Assured Tactical Connectivity

Adam Baddeley looks at the rapidly evolving state of the art in soldier communications

No SCA and with its own power, Raytheon’s new DH500 differs significantly from others in the MicroLight family. © Raytheon
No SCA and with its own power, Raytheon’s new DH500 differs significantly from others in the MicroLight family. © Raytheon

From their genesis as an alternative to shouting and hand signals at the fire team level, the ‘Personal Role Radio’ class of communications devices is responding to evolving military demand, to embrace network-enabled technologies. Both recent entrants to the market and upgrades to battlefield staples are seeing the inclusion of more secure transmission, real-time position tracking, messaging services and full-duplex, dual-net voice capabilities, often in embedded form factors for seamless integration in soldier modernisation ensembles.

The Selex Communications Personal Role Radio (PRR) was effectively first to market in this category and has added an enviable numbers of sales and customers to its tally. In the US, Selex Communications Inc have recently brought out the AN/PRC-343 Personal Role Radio v1.4 in both single and dual PTT versions, the latter designed for Combat Net Radio (CNR) operators or Team/Squad Leaders. Both versions offer 50mW output and over 1km in range. This is the US-version of the ‘Enhanced and Encrypted’ EZPRR which has been selected by three users which takes the legacy PRR and boosts range and provides improved information assurance for situational awareness applications.

The earlier version of the radio, the AN/PRC.343 1.0 is in widespread service with the US Marine Corps, the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and other units across the Services. An unlimited warranty rental package having being offered in the US since 2007, with users simply paying a flat fee and picking the radio up for training and dropping the radio off – in whatever state – when they return from theatre.

The original PRR is now nearing 300,0000 customers, with new and additional orders being added. In February, the PRR was selected for use onboard the Royal Navy’s Type 23 Frigates and Landing Platform Helicopter, HMS Ocean as an additional inter-crew communications system. The UK also extended the PRR’s implementation with the Vehicle Integrated Personal Role Radio system for installation in British Army Warrior and other armoured vehicles as an Urgent Operational Requirement and fielded from 2004, enabling every dismounted infantryman to communicate with their vehicles.

Harris tied down a brace of launch customers for the RF-7800S Secure Personal Radio (SPR) in February, for use in very difference environments, with Norway and a $25m contract with Royal Brunei Armed Forces which also includes the Harris RF-5800H and RF-5800V manpacks. Norway will use the SPR for its Personal Field Radio requirement for deployed forces, including in Afghanistan. The 600g SPR features a Standard Positioning Service GPS receiver with users selecting between Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) or customer-unique Citadel II digital encryption.

Thales’ 384 Kbps capable SOLAR 400 radio, is part of Germany’s now widely deployed Infanterist der Zukunft(IdZ) -BS ensemble, as an embedded solution with the company undertaking improvements to meet the requirement of the next generation IdZ-ES.

Thales’ new ST@R Mille family of radio is designed to bridge the gap between individual and platoon level communications. The 400g ST@R Mille – S operates from 325-470MHz, offering up to 400mW of power, down to just 1mW in low power mode as part of its power management regime, which provides 12 hours of operations with a transmit/receive/stand by ratio of 1:7:16. The range of the radio is 1000m in open terrain with complex urban terrain, dropping that to 300m, with throughput at up to 1Mbps. For leaders requiring platoon level range, Thales is offering a more powerful variant, the ST@R Mille-P which increases output power for links at ranges of up to 2Km.

Cobham’s new Eagle Close Combat Radio has an individual range of 800m but using its embedded automatic relaying, could go up to 4.8km. © AJB
Cobham’s new Eagle Close Combat Radio has an individual range of 800m but using its embedded automatic relaying, could go up to 4.8km. © AJB

Rapidly approaching service is Sagem’s RIF or Personal Digital radio for France’s Fantassin à Equipements et Liaisons Intégrés SMP with a range –largely governed by a its power output range of 100mW to 1W – of 1000m in open areas and 300m in urban, operating across 830- 862MHz with throughout of 1.16Mbps.

The sub-370g Tadiran PNR-500, offered by Telefunken RACOMS within Europe, provides an auto synchronisation capability with 200mW power output power, a voice and data network of 15 preset channels with up to three simultaneous speakers – using whisper mode for covert operations – and an asynchronous data stream of up to 16Kbps.

The Dicom PR20 has had its first operational test when it accompanied Czech forces as part of the NATOled International Security Assistance Forces. Several hundred have been ordered, primarily to support the digitization of the Czech Pandur fleet, coupled with the VICM 101 intercom.

In 2007, Telephonics delivered its Soldier Beacon radio to General Dynamic’s EDGE facility. The system is based on the company’s TruLink radio and integrates a commercial GPS extension for automated location reporting back to a Land Warrior equipped leader, as well as providing voice communication within the squad. The TruLink supports up to 31 users in a network with up to six simultaneous talkers and its data throughput of 384Kbps, easily copes with SA demands and is secured using AES encryption and a 50 hops per minute spread spectrum signal which can reach 400-500m.

For the export market ITT has developed the SpearNet which has chalked up success in Spain, including trials with the Comfut SMP. An ad hoc networking radio, the system has an effective throughput of 1.5Mbps in a multiple hop environment with a range of significantly over 1Km in operating conditions over three standard operating bands 1.2GHz, 2.4GHZ and the unusually high 4.9MHz. For the domestic market, the US firm is completing development of a new Soldier Radio. Reflecting US dismounted requirements power is as high as 5W but delivers an urban range of 1Km and VHF, UHF and L band. The company’s 2W, 30-88MHz Spearhead radio provide the dismounted soldier with a sub- 500g handheld access to SINCGARS capable radios, including the latest US Software Defined Radios.

The General Dynamics led Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) HMS programme will provide embedded soldier communications in an embedded Small Form Factor (SFF); the 2W single-channel SFF-C and the 5W, Type 1 encrypted single channel SFF- and the two-channel SFF B, which will equip the typical soldier, specialised users and fire team/squad leaders respectively. Each radio will support two or more waveforms although the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) will be the dominant contributor to the tactical net at this level. Raytheon has eschewed the JTRS SCA for the MicroLight DH-500 launched last year. The DH-500 takes many capabilities from embedded MicroLight Communication Network Radio Subsystem in Land Warrior and puts them in a smaller, stand alone form factor for the international market. The system communicates over long distance and in complex terrain by using relay support, routing the transmission through up to eight radios, using three used defined bands between 225-2000MHz with a maximum data rate of 1Mbps and protected using AES encryption and Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum techniques.

Kongsberg’s new SR600 Soldier Radio is a dismounted extension of the 225-400MHz TacLAN family, enabling seamless communication between command posts, vehicles and dismounted soldiers. Encryption is based on AES 256 with the system, designed to create several virtual dynamic networks within a single RFnetwork, with network capacity of up to 2.5Mbps and output power of up to 1W.

The SR600 was selected by Switzerland for its Integrated and Modular Engagement system for the Swiss Soldier (IMESS) or ‘Warrior 21’ SMP programme as part of the winning EADS/Sagem bid.

The Cobham Defence Communications Eagle Close Combat Radio has an individual range of 800m but using its embedded automatic relaying, could go up to 4.8km. This is all done within a 2.4Ghz radio, limited to just 100mW. This allows the Eagle to be deployed anywhere in the world without prior frequency allocation and supports throughput of up to 128Kbps, whilst maintaining two full duplex voice channels.

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