On Monday, I got a walkthrough of a demo by Harris Corp. of the Falcon III AN/PRC-117G radio being used as the basis for a battlefield network — both using currently available waveforms and the yet-to-be-released Joint Tactical Radio System Wideband Networking Waveform.
In the demo, Jaime Rubscha, a product manager for the RF Communications Division of Harris, showed how intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data , voice circuits (including Voice over IP phone circuits) and video could all be piped over an IP network, and bridged between Harris’ Advanced Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2) and the JTRS WNW waveform. Additionally, Harris demonstrated that the 117G could be connected via a satellite “hump” to INMARSAT’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) in places where line-of-site communications didn’t work (though it was clearly difficult to demonstrate BGAN connectivity from inside the Washington Convention Center).
It was all fairly impressive; handheld and laptop computers running the TIGR tactical intelligence application developed at DARPA, as well as phones, push-to-talk mics, and video feeds were connected to each of the endpoint radios, while one pair of radios acted as a bridge between ANW2 and WNW. The demonstration was Harris’ way of showing that it was already providing the types of data services that WNW and the pending JTRS program-of-record Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) from Boeing and its partners (Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins and BAE Systems, with support from Harris Corp.) would provide, at a fraction of the projected cost.
On Tuesday morning, I was briefed by Boeing on the status of the GMR. Boeing’s Ralph Moslener, program director for JTRS GMR, said that the program had finally begun its Formal Qualification Testing, and that code for all of the waveforms has been “frozen” under configuration management (except for the Soldier Radio Waveform, which is being managed by another program of record, General Dynamics C4 System’s Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit (HMS) ).
Moslener spent a good deal of time making the point that Boeing’s GMR is the only radio that will meet all of the JTRS GMR requirements — all 37,298 of them — and that the radio’s expected cost is declining, approaching $25,000 per channel per radio. He offered up a number of direct comparisons to the 117G, noting that it doesn’t have internal traffic routing and retransmission capability of the GMR, and has less frequency range and transmitting power.
When presented with Boeing’s points, Harris representatives agreed with Boeing’s assessment. The 117G doesn’t meet all of the JTRS requirements, which is why it’s available now. The 117G doesn’t have the internal routing and depends on an external router for that task, but the GMR isn’t integrated completely into a single box, and both rigs would have a similar footprint. And since Harris’ design is modular, an external amplifier could get the 117G up to the GMR’s 100-watt transmission strength.
As GMR finally approaches its own formal testing, having been used only in engineering design model (EDM) form in a few Future Combat Systems Limited User Tests (LUTs), the underlying question is whether the JTRS program-of-record radio will be cost-effective enough to be purchased in volume by the DOD. With major RESET re-equipping coming, and thousands of 117Gs already deployed, that’s not exactly guaranteed.