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Bringing Scalable Modular Radio to Existing Systems

Soldier Modernisation talks to Nathan Rijckmans of DTC

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Q: Could we go back over the Sentry 6161 Radio that you showcased last year and its abilities?

A: The Sentry 6161 is a rugged, lightweight, military-grade radio that incorporates DTC's robust MIMO Mesh IP technology that is designed to meet the requirements of the modern dismounted solider.

The compact radio features DTC's MeshUltra™ tactical waveform in a frequency range of 1.2 - 1.7GHz, 2W adjustable power output and Ethernet and USB/USB-PD connectivity for plug and play MOTS/COTS peripherals. Weighing only 445 grams, with a low power consumption, the Sentry 6161 is the latest generation 'best in class' MANET Mesh Soldier Radio.

DTC's unique MeshUltra™ waveform operates in narrow channels within a single, robust and scalable network. This technology is proving effective in real-time environments where interference avoidance is critical for deployment teams who require rebroadcast, high-speed, long-range, reliable video, audio and data communications links.

Q: Could you define what DTC means by modular radio and how Sentry 6161 fits like a lego block into an existing radio network?

A: Western militaries are recognizing that Type 1 radios are inefficient in terms of delivery time, often adding at least two years to each procurement project. To address this, we are seeing a move away from old-school army-wide combat net radio programs in the lower echelons of military deployment, and a willingness to work with newer communications technology, and even militarized commercial technology, in order to develop at pace. This need for faster procurement, as well as the concept of connected combattants in which the radio is simply one part of an ecosystem of evolving technology on the soldier, is what has led to the design of the Sentry 6161 as a modular radio. The Sentry 6161 is modular in that it is simply one component of the technology carried by the connected soldier, designed to integrate into the array of diverse and evolving power, optical, sensor, navigational and targeting systems that they are required to carry on the modern battlefield. This also allows them to procure items in phases, first the radio then the peripherals, such as headsets, antennas, batteries, hubs, optics, smartphones and tablets etc.

In summary, the Sentry 6161 radio stands out for its modularity and adaptability, providing a flexible, future-proof solution for military communication needs. It embodies the principles of spiral procurement, ensuring that forces can stay ahead of technological and tactical shifts without being bogged down by lengthy, rigid procurement processes or locked in for years to a single radio system that is unable to evolve forwards at pace. This modular radio is set to become a cornerstone in modern military operations, delivering the rapid adaptability and integration required in today's fast-paced defense environment.

Q: With advances in technology moving faster than procurement, the days of programs buying a complete radio system from one vendor isn't possible, systems have to grow with technology and be able to integrate best of type when necessary, how does Sentry 6161 allow this?

A: The Sentry 6161 radio system represents a significant shift in military procurement, aligning with the UK military's move towards spiral, or phased and compartmentalized, procurement allowing acquisition of different equipment year on year. This approach breaks away from the traditional 10-year procurement programs, which often become obsolete due to rapid technological advancements and evolving warfare tactics. The spiral procurement model is designed to provide flexibility and adaptability, enabling the military to keep pace with technological progress and not be locked in for 5-10 years with a single vendor solution.

The modular design of the Sentry 6161 radio epitomizes this philosophy. Unlike conventional systems that require the deployment of an entire ecosystem—headset, radio, battery, hub, antenna, phone and so on—at once, the Sentry 6161 allows for incremental upgrades. This modular approach ensures that each component can be updated or replaced independently, keeping the overall system current and effective.

Cases in point can be seen in the CMOSS concept or the Royal Navy's PODS program, the idea of high-tech equipment conforming to universal physical interoperability and installation standards, allowing inherently fast-moving technology such as a radio to evolve without being held up by the wider system it is installed into. The need to reassess and redefine requirements in the face of rapidly changing technology and even more rapid changes in warfare itself highlighted the inadequacies of long-term procurement strategies. In contrast, the Sentry 6161's modularity offers a solution: military units can deploy a new radio without overhauling the entire communication system, ensuring continuous compatibility and operational readiness.

This radio system is designed to integrate seamlessly with existing and future equipment. Whether a unit has just invested in a new battery or spent years selecting the perfect headset, the Sentry 6161 can fit in without requiring additional changes. Almost everything about the radio is software defined, from the internal and even functionality of the physical connectors, allowing it to adapt to whatever configuration the military currently uses but above all, allowing it to evolve to support future requirements, whether that is a new connectivity standard, a new voice codec, or even a new waveform.

Unlike other radio systems on the market, the Sentry 6161 is not about locking clients into a decade-long commitment. Instead, it offers a single, versatile component that fits into the broader ecosystem, supporting a more agile and responsive procurement strategy. This aligns with the British Army's approach to plan for 10-year radio programs but remain open to yearly updates, acknowledging that future needs and technologies are unpredictable.

The Sentry 6161 boasts extreme compatibility, positioning itself as a critical asset for modern military forces. It's designed for rapid deployment and integration, allowing for short-term procurement cycles. This is crucial in a world where military needs can change overnight, and technological advancements occur every 12-18 months.

Q: We have talked about 'the digital battlefield' for the past few years, the need for a system that can talk not just to the people in your troop but to vehicles, artillery and air support, if that is voice, but more importantly sharing data, how can Sentry 6161 provide that now and into the future?

A: The integration of the TSM waveform into the DTC product line will offer our customers the unprecedented flexibility to switch seamlessly between two distinct waveforms using a single radio. This capability allows soldiers to rapidly adapt their communication systems to meet diverse mission requirements and operate effectively in various global environments.

This groundbreaking collaboration empowers military personnel and Five Eyes (FVEY) warfighters to utilize a unified hardware platform, effortlessly selecting between waveforms on DTC's portfolio of software-defined radios. This adaptability ensures precise, reliable communications tailored to specific locations and mission needs, enhancing DTC's presence across military, coalition forces and commercial markets.

The multi-waveform integration significantly elevates our global product offerings, complementing our existing HF, VHF and interoperable solutions. By combining TSM and DTC waveforms on a single radio, we provide our end customers with superior communication options, enhancing operational effectiveness and mission success in the new 'digital battlefield', across all forms of vehicles and ground troops.

Given that conflicts can start and end within such extended procurement timeframes, this shift underscores the challenges posed by traditional military procurement in a rapidly evolving technological landscape. The need for modular and compatible radio systems, such as the Sentry 6161, is more critical than ever.

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