The US Army’s Combat Net Radio programme heralds new transceivers for the US armed forces to eventually replace legacy SINCGARS systems.
It has been a busy time for US tactical radio modernisation. Thales and L3Harris were both recently awarded Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts as part of the Combat Net Radio (CNR) effort. CNR replaces the US military’s legacy Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) transceivers. The entire CNR programme could be worth over $6 billion. The two initial orders to Thales and L3Harris are worth $20.6 million and $18.2 million respectively, according to reports. Initial deliveries of the first CNR radios to the army are expected in circa 2024 with these continuing up to 2030.
A Thales press release said the company will fulfill its part of the CNR IDIQ contract with the firm’s AN/PRC-148 Joint Tactical Radio System Enhanced Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio (IMBITR). The AN/PRC-148 will replace the RT-1523 Very High Frequency (VHF: 30 megahertz/MHz to 512MHz) series transceiver. The RT-1523 family includes vehicular and manpack radios carrying the SINCGARS waveform. These are used throughout the US armed forces and designated as the AN/PRC-119C/E/F (RT-1523C/E/F).
Thales’ official literature says their radio carries the SINCGARS waveform along with the HAVEQUICK-I/II 400MHz to 500MHz frequency-hopping waveform. Beyond SINCGARS and HAVEQUICK-I/II the radio accommodates the Integrated Waveform for satellite communications and Project-25 (APCO-25). The APCO-25 waveform is used throughout the US first responder community. Having this waveform embedded into the AN/PRC-148 is particularly important for when the US armed forces are called on to help the latter.
The CNR programme runs alongside the wider HMS (Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Factor) initiative. This is led by the US Army’s Programme Executive Office – Command, Control, Communications Tactical (PEO-C3T) office. A plethora of new radios are being delivered to the army, the US Marine Corps, US Navy and US Air Force via HMS. The CNR effort will help to “phase out a significant portion of the ageing 300,000 RT-1523 series SINCGARS radios, some of which have been in service since the 1980s,” Thales told Armada.
The new CNR transceivers will have a similar shape and size to the legacy RT-1523 series, Thales continued. This will ease the retrofit of these new radios into legacy vehicles equipped with RT-1523s, for example. As the new radios includes the SINCGARS waveform this will ensure interoperability. Given the timelines for the CNR introduction, the new and legacy radios will need to run side-by-side for some time. As both will carry SINCGARS, both will be able to communicate with each other.
Although the CNRs will carry SINCGARS, they will have greatly enhanced Transmission and Communications Security (TRANSEC/COMSEC) compared to the radios they replace. “A critical component of the programme is to provide the SINCGARS communication capability on a platform that has updated and resilient cryptography,” Thales continued.
TRANSEC and COMSEC is further enhanced with the modernisations being rolled into the SINCGARS waveform. Launched by the PEO-C3T in 2017 this adds Advanced Encryption Standard-256 (AES-256) improvements to the waveform. The US National Security Agency’s AES-256 standard is arguably the world’s most secure encryption. The US Army will test and qualify the software before releasing it to the Joint Tactical Network Centre (JTNC). The JTNC is the US Department of Defence’s communications waveforms repository. Additional testing will be performed by the JTNC before the improved SINCGARS waveform is installed in the legacy and new radios as software.
The US armed forces are destined to receive new CNRs which will be a leap forward in performance and TRANSEC/COMSEC compared to the systems they replace. They will also receive an improved SINCGARS waveform which will continue to be resilient on the battlefield.
by Dr. Thomas Withington