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Home | Industry | Racal Acoustics: Listen and protect
Racal AcousticsListen and protect

Racal Acoustics bring modularity to its headset product line with the Future Tactical Communications System (FTCS) as the basis for developing new capabilities

“We have been very successful in developing and supplying head sets for predominately mounted users. That has been the core of our business over many years. Now however, we have become closely involved in meeting the needs of the dismounted user,” explained Steve Rist, Product Manager, Racal Acoustics describing the company’s approach to developing its product line.

The difference between the mounted and dismounted user impacts how any system deals with noise, or at least should. © DoD

The difference between the mounted and dismounted user impacts how any
system deals with noise, or at least should. © DoD


The Future Tactical Communications System (FTCS) is the basis for developing new capabilities for headsets. Rist explained that users can choose between several levels of design functionality, combining headsets and switchbox capability, according to their operational needs and mission sets. “We are offering a series of switchboxes at various levels of complexity, to which you can hook up any of our headsets at the top and a combination of Personal Radio or vehicle intercomms at the other end of the system. With this flexible system, we can provide more than one channel of communications, delivering them to the user in an intelligible form.”

The FTCS acts as a dismounted or mounted system for personal communications. “Its main advantage is its modularity,” argues Rist. “It gives you a choice of levels that you can mix and match your capability through. You go from basic dual sided version that probably only supports a ‘Personal Radio’ (PR) or has PR-as-intercom on it, with Talk Through which electronically reproduces the external sound environment in the earpiece, to a dual radio and intercom solution. Its flexible software defined architecture has the ability to deliver other technologies as they come in as well – data interfaces, signal processing etc as we move forward. FTCS will include the facility to include fully capable data interfaces. That is where we now need to go, integrating data and audio on the soldier. We are already seeing some requirement for that from programmes now and we will integrate interfaces like USB as those requirements go forward.”

Prototypes of the FTCS were delivered to hearing protection / soldier communications programmes for trials earlier this year. Rist said, “They are having a look at FTCS and a range of other products on the market for the purpose of tackling the growing issue of hearing protection.” FTCS provides a choice of hearing protection options but as Rist comments, “the communications part is thrown in as well!”

Racal Acoustics has an advanced pre-production model of FTCS available in the early Summer with the launch planned to coincide with Soldier Technology Global and Eurosatory. This is linked with other developments and updates in the Racal ancillaries range including a major change to the Cobra style headset which will move from a single to a dual sided earpiece. This is a reflection of the market trend for more sophisticated communications devices to which ancillaries are expected to connect. Rist said, “The new generation of radios that can deliver two channels of communications, giving you communications in each ear again, which improves effectiveness. The intention is to introduce the hardwired version at Soldier Technology Global.”

In ear solutions are becoming a standard complement to communications for dismounted users, and Racal are developing solutions to meet this demand too. “We are looking, as is everyone else, at in ear and our preproduction evaluation units, will be at Soldier Technology Global and Eurosatory,” explained Rist. “There are a whole range of capabilities that the in ear device could support, but it will certainly deliver and receive communications and have a situational awareness capability as well.”


The difference between the mounted and dismounted user impacts how any system deals with noise, or at least should. Rist explained, “We have looked at the requirements in the market and Active Noise Reduction is something that is being offered to dismounted infantrymen although in our opinion this isn’t actually something they need. For the solely dismounted infantrymen, ANR only gives you enhanced protection when you are in a vehicle, ANR operates in relation to the low frequency noise band generated by the drive chain in wheeled and tracked vehicles. ANR doesn’t deal with high frequency impulse noise, it just deals with the low end noise. If you have got a passive headset that is offering you circa 18 dB(A) of noise protection, that is sufficient for most infantryman, even if he is in a wheeled vehicle and probably if he’s next to a vehicle. His primary concerns are impulse noise from gunfire and blast. He wants to protect his hearing from whatever the impulse noise is by limiting the noise he hears to a pre-determined level.”

Having outlined the problem, Rist moves to the solution. “The preferred way forward is to achieve an in ear type device that provides you with the level of noise attenuation suitable for use in a medium noise wheeled vehicle with gun shot and blast being compressed to safe levels, with or without “Talk Through” operating. Because impulse noise is so instant, infrequent instances normally only have a short term or temporary effect on the users hearing. That said, some people don’t like in-ear devices and won’t accept them. You will always have this split and you will always have some users and individuals wanting non-in ear solutions as well.”

Design choices are as ever influenced by Tactics, Techniques and Procedures. “One of the things you have to be careful of, from a communications point of view, is limiting noise rather than cutting it out entirely, because if you cut out all noise, you can cut out communications at precisely the time they are likely be needed most.” The Raptor 17 and 25 already provide this attenuation capability and will continue to do so as part of FTCS.

“From our point of view our goal is trying to get to that perfect product that gives the infantry good communications, situational awareness and hearing protection that is lightweight and with good environmental performance. An in ear device is naturally made out of smaller components, and uses lightweight cables. That makes weight reduction easy in any in ear design. The issue instead becomes one of designing a solution which maintains low weight while remaining sufficiently rugged, capable environmentally and protected against EMP / EMC.

Racal are also following a strategy of working closely with radio OEMs to better anticipate new ancillary capabilities so that they can be designed into and exploited by future iterations of FTCS. Rist said, “When they take capability forward in their radios, we are a lot closer to that process. We want to develop our headsets at the same time they develop their radios. Getting closer to those communications providers is something we are increasingly aiming at.”


A further Racal Acoustics product line for the dismounted soldier are RA2000, RA205 and RA250 style field line communications handsets, designed to operate in both vehicular, field operations centres and dismounted manpack roles. These are now being, as Rist described them, “rejuvenated’ to provide an IP based networked communication line for the modern soldier.

“The big picture right now in terms of battlefield communications infrastructure is that the centre is digital but the extremities are still analogue. There are thousands of analogue handsets out there. We need to change this and we are putting together a new VoIP Rugged Terminal Adapter (RTA) product which sits between the deployed analogue sets out there and the military IP core. “This will integrate voice into the range of data battlefield applications, such as remote surveillance, situational awareness etc, that have become such a key element of modern military operations”.

For rapid deployment, a short term encampment or similar networked communications systems are continuing to produce its RAPID40 product line. ”We continue to have interest in the RAPID40’s quick deployment two wire cable based approach. You can hook 40 hand sets off the RAPID40 up to distance of 10km and has a general purpose interface that can go off into a PSTN, satellite or radio network. This creates a highly useful ‘island’ network that you can hook handsets on an off.”

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