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Home | Industry | Wideband communications: Changing the organisation of the battlefield
Harris assured communicationsWideband communications: Changing the organisation of the battlefield

Steve Marschilok, vice president and general manager, International Government Systems, Harris Corporation discusses the new and enduring communications capabilities being considered by the military

Steve Marshilok
Steve Marshilok

Q: What are the challenges in delivering wideband technology to military customers, particularly the dismounted user?
A: It is more of a transition than a challenge. The deployment of wideband radios will lead to a truly digital battlefield by forming the backbone of a network-centric communications architecture. Accordingly, additional attention is required in the upfront planning and configuration of the communications system. A key focus of Harris is to limit the additional configuration requirements to the upfront planning stage -- thus keeping operation extremely simple and helping the dismounted user move quickly through the learning curve. One example of this focus is the RF-7800S Secure Personal Radio, which delivers digital voice and data to the individual soldier.

Q: To what extent do expectations about what wideband can offer have to be managed?
A: Like many new technologies, wideband is often viewed as a panacea for tactical radio communications. At one time it was commonly believed that wideband radios would completely replace narrowband combat net radios (CNR). However, there are operational differences: Wideband generally doesn’t have the point-to-point range of a narrowband radio, but can often reach radios at greater distances though automated relays using ad-hoc networking. As wideband radios such as the RF-7800M and the AN/PRC-117G are deployed, our customers are able to run high data rate applications like full motion video. But, it is also clear that wideband will likely supplement versus replace narrowband CNR radio. As a result, we believe a key aspect of the solution is to offer a full suite of both wideband and narrowband so that customers can select the right radio for each mission/application.

Q: Harris has a long history of supporting the dismounted soldier. Wideband requirements however, increasingly embrace vehicle mounted architectures, particularly with the RF-7800W. How is Harris supporting vehicle installation work with platform OEMs and how are Harris designs adapting?
A: Harris tactical radios are designed for the full spectrum of dismount, vehicular, and command post applications. Our Systems Engineering organisation has over 40 years experience installing tactical radios in every type of military vehicle, ranging from tanks to large mobile command posts to helicopters and UAVs. The group is expert at interfacing with vehicular systems, designing installation kits for constrained spaces and collocation/antenna design. Their extensive experience interacting with militaries around the world makes them leaders in this field. In the case of wideband radios, the group has recently completed the installation of high capacity microwave radio systems in more than 30 tracked armoured command posts with rapid deployment antenna systems. The group also works closely with platform OEMs to design and supply complete vehicle integration kits for our tactical radio systems. As you know, Harris AN/PRC- 117F, AN/PRC-150, and AN/VRC-110 tactical radio systems are integrated into the most U.S. forces' MRAP vehicles. Our extensive work and cooperation with the MRAP OEM manufacturers is an excellent example of how we are able to join forces with the platform OEMs quickly and efficiently.

Q: The advent of wideband technology while welcome is being done in the absence of NATO standardisation. How do you ensure equipment bought today for trials and urgent requirements will remain suitable of inter-Alliance and inter-Coalition capabilities throughout its service life?
A: Although there is some ongoing NATO standardisation work, it will likely be a number of years before a standard is written, ratified, and implemented. In the meantime, interoperability can be achieved in two ways: at the “IP” level or through an interim waveform that is shared by multiple nations. In the case of the latter, with the emergence of Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology, it is much more efficient and cost effective to port waveforms from one platform to another than in the past. As one of the originators in the field, Harris has invested heavily in and been developing SDR radios for 20 years. We are the only company with two NSA-certified Software Communications Architecture (SCA) based radios in the market. Our radios are upgradeable to adapt to changing technologies and mission requirements. Although the business model is still evolving, the JTRS waveform approach has worked well.

Q: The RF-7800W offers a paradigm shifting change in available throughput, with an alternative-HCLOS solution at lower tactical levels than hitherto possible with conventional ‘microwave’ technology. To what extent are you seeing change in the way forces operate based on the new technology?
A: The RF-7800W is providing deployed forces with capabilities they've never had before. The radio establishes high-speed low latency data links, allowing for the rapid exchange of streaming video and other high-data rate applications all the way down to Company level. What we're hearing from the field is that the RF-7800W is allowing commanders to easily synchronise and correlate intelligence and surveillance with operational details – promoting rapid responses within the enemy's own decision cycle. Our customers are telling us this radio will save lives.

Q: HF is the antithesis of wideband in almost every way but the need for it never goes away, nor should it. Now that the argument that HF should and must be used has been made and universally accepted what are you doing to squeeze that little bit more out of the frequency, work with NATO and integrate its messages into the VHF/UHF dominated tactical internet and applications?
A: We agree that HF provides an essential part of a modern tactical radio system and that it’s here to stay. As you know, Harris is a world leader in HF technology. Our RF-5800H and AN/PRC-150(C) radios are deployed with most militaries worldwide. Over the past decade Harris has developed a number of major HF radio enhancements to maximize use of the channel and make HF more efficient and reliable. With the shift to network-centric communications, the need for HF radio to send reliable IP data and to interface with both narrowband and wideband radios is increasing. The RF-5800H and AN/PRC-150 provide these capabilities today. Our engineers are always on the forefront of HF technology advancements -- and with the flexible SDR designs of our radios, waveform enhancements are easily fielded. It is now clear that HF will maintain a critical place on the battle field for the foreseeable future.

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