Feverish activity has been witnessed in the European tactical radios domain in the past year, with new products being launched, and existing products receiving important modifications. Meanwhile, suppliers continue to fulfil radio procurements around the continent.
In recent years, the tactical communications community have looked upon the activities of Bittium (formerly Elektrobit) with interest, particularly the company’s TAC WIN product which provides wired and wireless battlefield Internet Protocol (IP) communications from brigade to platoon levels. This can be achieved across ranges of up to 30 kilometres/km (19 miles). The TAC WIN ensemble includes a compact Tactical Router and three optional Radio Heads which, between them, cover the segment of the Ultra High Frequency (UHF: 300 Megahertz/MHz) to three Gigahertz/GHz) radio spectrum used for military tactical communications.
The Tactical Router forms the IP networks with the Radio Heads enabling deployed tactical radios to communicate with the Tactical Router and thus access battlefield IP services. Bittium told Armada that the Maavoimat (Finnish Army), which was the original TAC WIN customer, is now taking the system into service, and that Finnish Army soldiers are being trained to operate it. The firm continued that, as the TAC WIN uses a software defined architecture, it can be continually improved with relative ease, allowing new capabilities to be inserted into the TAC WIN as software upgrades as and when they become available. Such development efforts have manifested themselves in the realisation of a VOIP (Voice Over IP) capability which the firm announced for the TAC WIN this year. This capability has been added to the TAC WIN systems already in service with the Finnish Army. One of the attractions of the VOIP service is that it allows users equipped with a laptop or smartphone outfitted with the necessary software, to use VOIP to communicate with tactical radios in the field which access the IP network via the use of the Radio Heads (see above).
Beyond Finland, the company shared with Armada that it had commenced deliveries of the first TAC WIN products to an undisclosed international customer. It added that software developments continue with the next TAC WIN software release currently under development and expected to be available by the end of this year, with a further release planned for 2017. These releases will improve the data throughput of TAC WIN and make the waveforms it employs yet more robust. Other recent enhancements for TAC WIN include a demonstration of its ability to carry the pan-European ESSOR waveform. ESSOR is a programme which is managed by OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en Matière d’Armement/Joint Armament Control Organisation), a European intergovernmental organisation managing collaborative arms programmes involving Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. The ESSOR initiative aims to develop a high data rate wideband networking waveform for software defined radios which can be made available to the participating nations of Finland, France, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden. This intends to improve interoperability via a waveform which can be used across the participating nations and other third party nations in the future. Bittium is one of several companies involved in the development of ESSOR, alongside Thales, Selex/Leonardo, Radmor, Saab and Indra. The Finnish defence forces plan to employ the ESSOR waveform in their tactical radios from company level, down to platoon and squad levels.
Bittium demonstrated the interoperability of ESSOR at the Eurosatory exhibition in Paris in June where the TAC WIN showed that it can carry voice, video and data traffic using the waveform between TAC WIN and Thales PR4G tactical radios (see below). A similar demonstration at the event showed the TAC WIN using ESSOR to perform live video streaming with a Selex/Leonardo tactical radio. Bittium plans more field trials in Finland to prove ESSOR’s capabilities vis-à-vis TAC WIN. Beyond this, it hopes to begin demonstrating the operational capability of the TAC WIN-ESSOR combination from 2017 with a project to this effect lasting up to four years.
Alongside enhancement to existing products such as TAC WIN, new transceivers have entered the marketplace. Launched in September 2015 at the Defence Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition held in London, MESIT Defence’ (formerly DICOM) RF-40V follows the handheld RF-40 radio launched earlier that year. The RF-40V incorporates the handheld RF-40 radio in its chassis offering a ‘grab and run’ capability for the user. In effect this provides two radios within one for the user; a handheld radio for dismounted operations and a vehicular radio for mobile communications.
The RF-40V uses the same waveforms as the RF-40; principally line-of-sight frequency modulation/amplitude modulation, the WF-40 Very High Frequency (VHF: 30MHz to 300MHz) and UHF Mobile Ad-Hoc Networking wideband waveform and the HW-20 VHF EPM (Electronic Protection Measure) wideband waveform. In addition, like the RF-40, the RF-40V can accommodate a Mission Module. This is equipped to provide a second channel for fast, high data rate (circa 37 megabits-per-second/mbps) L-band (one to two gigahertz) ground-to-ground communications. The company told Armada that it has teamed with the UK’s SlingShot to offer that company’s Beyond-Line-Of-Sight (BLOS), Satellite Communications (SATCOM) on-the-move radio appliqué. This appliqué provides International Maritime Satellite’s (INMARSAT) L-band Tactical Satellite (L-TAC) services carried across the company’s INMARSAT-4 constellation, with L-TAC handling encrypted and unencrypted voice and data traffic for military users. Speaking in October 2015 at the Defence and Security exhibition in Bangkok, the firm told the author that it was awaiting customers for both the RF-40 and RF-40V and expected production of the RF-40V to commence by mid-2016.
Rohde and Schwarz
While new products grace the marketplace from European suppliers, work continues on existing major programmes. Rohde and Schwarz told Armada via a written statement that, currently, one of its most important programmes is the development for the Heer (German Army) of its SVFuA (Streitkräftegemeinsame Verbundfähige Funkgeräte-Ausstattung/Armed Forces Joint Composite Capable Radio Equipment) tactical radio. The SVFuA programme is developing a new Software Defined Radio (SDR) which will cover a frequency range of 1.5MHz to three gigahertz for the German Army, and the company disclosed that the development work on this new radio has now been completed. The V/UHF radio uses a multi-channel architecture handling national communications at the German GEHEIM (Secret) level. Rohde and Schwarz are planning to also classify the radio to handle NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Secret traffic, although it has not provided a timeline as to when this could occur.
The company continued that another important phase of the development of the radio to meet the SVFuA requirement has now been achieved with the porting of legacy waveforms, and waveforms from third parties, into the radio to allow its compatibility with transceivers already in service with the German Army. In terms of legacy waveforms these will include the HAVEQUICK-I/II air-to-ground/ground-to-air digital waveform used throughout NATO and the High Frequency (HF: three megahertz to 30MHz) Multiple Adaptive HF Radio System waveform and new waveforms such as COALWNW (see above). At present, the SVFuA radio is only capable of narrowband communications, although the firm has told Armada that the transceiver will require a wideband networking waveform in the future. One of the candidates to this end could be the company’s HDR (High Data Rate Waveform) which can meet such needs. Furthermore, the ability of the radio to carry the Link-16 tactical data link protocol used by NATO and allied nations for communications to support air operations is being explored. More details regarding the Link-16 data link can be found in the author’s ‘Let’s Get Linky’ article in the accompanying edition of Armada. The company added that the SVFuA radio will initially equip the German Army’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann/Rheinmetall Puma infantry fighting vehicle and Boxer armoured fighting vehicles produced by the same company.
While Rohde and Schwarz have been working hard on the new SVFuA radio, Thales has unveiled a new family of tactical radios developed as a spin-off from its CONTACT tactical radio programme it is fulfilling for the Armée de Terre (AdA/French Army) to eventually replace the firm’s PR4G radios currently used by the force. During the Eurosatory exhibition, the firm launched its new SYNAPS radio family which uses much of the technology already developed for CONTACT. The entire SYNAPS family includes airborne radios (SYNAPS-A), as well as a handheld (SYNAPS-H) and manpack/vehicular transceiver (SYNAPS-V).
The transceivers comprising the SYNAPS family share the same hardware as those being procured for the CONTACT programme, with the exception that they are bereft of the national proprietary encryption and security features which will equip the AdA’s CONTACT radios. In terms of data throughput, the SYNAPS transceivers have an optimum data rate of up to five megabits per second, and are intended to provide a battalion-wide network. In terms of waveforms, the SYNAPS radios will be able to host the customers’ sovereign waveforms, along with standard waveforms such as HAVEQUICK-I/II which is a UHF frequency-hopping waveform employed for air-to-air/ground-to-air communications and SATURN (Second-Generation Anti-Jam Tactical UHF Radio for NATO) which can carry data links such as the Link-11 and Link-22 protocols. Other waveforms which the SYNAPS family can host include the legacy PR4G waveforms already in use with these eponymous Thales radios. This will allow the SYNAPS family to be backwards-compatible with legacy radios using these waveforms. This is a particularly important consideration as there will be an overlapping transition within the French armed forces between the PR4G family and the new CONTACT radio.
Other waveforms which can be hosted by the SYNAPS family include ESSOR (see above) and COALWNW. Furthermore, Thales disclosed that the SYNAPS radio will include two new proprietary waveforms, namely the Manoeuvre waveform to be used for ground-to-ground voice and data communications, and the Airborne waveform for air-to-ground/ground-to-air voice and data communications. Thales told the author that it expects to complete field trials of the SYNAPS-H and SYNAPS-V transceivers by 2017, with production then commencing in 2018 which is analogous to the French CONTACT programme procurement timetable. The airborne radio should meanwhile complete testing in 2018, and be ready for production in 2019. Thales is currently awaiting customers for the SYNAPS family.