The South African National Defence Force is finally receiving a surfeit of new tactical radios allowing it to retire a raft of legacy systems.
Reports in early July said the South African Army had received new Reutech tactical radios for operational testing and evaluation. Testing and evaluation represents the final stage before the radios are deployed across the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The work will be performed by the South African Army’s Signal Formation.
The delivery of the new radios to the Signal Formation is an important milestone in the SANDF’s Project Radiate. This initiative commenced last decade with a view to rolling out new tactical radios across the South African Army and the country’s navy and air force. Reports continued that full-scale production was to have commenced in 2012, with deliveries of the new radios to follow in 2013. It appears that Project Radiate has experienced significant delays given that deployment only now seems to be taking place.
The new radios replace four standard transceivers the SANDF has used for several decades. These radios include the Very High Frequency (VHF: 26 megahertz/MHz to 75.975MHz) A53 and A55 backpack systems. These two radios were joined by the vehicular VHF B56 and B57, all of which entered service in the mid-1970s and were built by Barlows. The company is now called Barloworld but has divested from defence. VHF radios were supplemented by the High Frequency (1.6MHz to 30MHz) Reutech C21 transceiver in the 1990s.
Reutech is introducing several new radios into the SANDF via Project Radiate. New backpack transceivers include the ten watt/W Very/Ultra High Frequency (V/UHF: 118MHz to 400MHz) MCR3005. The MCR3005 is to be used primarily for ground-to-air/air-to-ground communications. The ten-watt MCR2005 is also a VHF backpack system but covers frequencies of 30MHz to 88MHz. New backpack HF radios include Reutech’s MCR1025. The SANDF is receiving new vehicular systems including Reutech’s 50W VHF VCR2050 (30MHz – 88MHz) and 20W VCR3020 (118MHz – 400MHz). A vehicular HF radio in the guise of the VCR1100 is also being delivered. The 50W FCR5050 (30MHz – 400MHz) and HF FCR1100 radios will equip fixed installations. Finally, Reutech’s PCR4001 is a UHF (410MHz – 510MHz) one-watt personal role radio. The vehicular VCR4001 has similar characteristics.
All these new radios are compatible with South Africa’s Link-ZA HF and V/UHF Tactical Datalink (TDL). Open sources say a Link-ZA network can support up to 31 active nodes hosting unlimited subscribers. Development of Link-ZA commenced in the 1990s and it entered service in 2012. Link-ZA was conceived as an alternative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) Link-11 and Link-16 TDLs. South Africa had reportedly been refused permission by NATO to acquire these TDL protocols. All military communications equipment used by the SANDF must by Link-ZA compliant.
Some of Project Radiate radios have already been supplied to the South African military and were deployed to support the United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Deploying the radios to the DRC provided valuable lessons regarding radio performance in hot and humid environments. While Project Radiate has taken some time to fruition, it is now finally yielding the tactical communications the SANDF so badly needs.
by Dr. Thomas Withington