Talking to the Banshee

British Army Banshee BTR Radio on Display
An example of the British Army’s new Banshee BTR tactical communications system which can provide a local area cellular network hosting voice and data traffic. Smartphones which can use the Banshee BTR’s network can be seen here in the foreground.

A new British Army capability is providing cellular connectivity on the battlefield for voice and data traffic, along with conventional communications backhaul, all via a single system.

Armada has learned more details about the British Army’s Fenix Banshee BTR backpack tactical communications system. According to the radio’s manufacturers the Banshee BTR provides a bubble of Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular communications coverage across a specific area. The radio provides LTE frequencies across a waveband of 700 megahertz/MHz to 3.7 gigahertz/GHz. Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (MANET) backhaul frequencies from one to six gigahertz are also provided. Armada was told that the Banshee BTR can host up to 120 subscribers at any one time. The backpack weighs 9.4 kilograms (20.8 pounds) including the radio’s batteries.

The company’s own literature says that the Banshee BTR offers download speeds of 300 megabits-per-second/mbps and 100mbps upload speeds. The system has AES 128 level encryption and can use encryptors meeting the US National Security Agency’s Type-1 standard. Coverage of circa one kilometre (0.6 miles) is provided by the Banshee BTR. Ranges can be extended to seven kilometres (4.4 miles) when using the vehicle-mounted Banshee BMR. The Banshee BMR hosts up to 800 subscribers and has 20 watts of transmission power, compared to the one-watt output of the Banshee BTR.

Armada was told by British Army sources that the Banshee BTR’s range can extend to five kilometres (3.1 miles) if the radio is elevated on a vantage point. The system can be made ready for use in under eight minutes. Troops can bring their own end user devices like smartphones or tablets which can send and receive traffic across the Banshee BTR’s LTE network. All that is required is for these devices to have an appropriate Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card.

Preserving discretion

The Banshee BTR brings several key benefits vis-a-vis battlefield communications: By using a secure cellular service voice and data traffic with lower, or zero, levels of classification can be moved off conventional tactical networks. This frees up addition space on these latter networks. Conventional tactical links tend to always be in demand and are invariably operating at, or close to, their limits.

The Banshee BTR also helps shield traffic from electronic attack. The LTE network established by the radio can be given an innocuous name to make it sound like a standard, generic civilian cellphone service. Thus, this network’s purpose might not be immediately obvious to red force communications intelligence cadres. As the Banshee BTR provides MANET backhaul, traffic needing to be shared with recipients beyond the radio’s range can be easily moved onto conventional ultra-high frequency trunk links.

The British Army trialled the Banshee BTR at the force’s 2022-2023 Urban Series Warfighting Experiment that was hosted by the Royal Navy in Portsmouth on the south coast of England. Army tactical communications modernisation initiatives have had their share of difficulties. Nonetheless, the Banshee BTR is a capable system and a good example of the force procuring useful capabilities to enhance connectivity. Moreover, the embrace of cellular technology makes the Banshee BTR’s networks easy to access and use while helping to safeguard battlefield communications integrity.

Fenix Banshee BTR Radio
Troops prepare a Banshee BTR tactical radio during the British Army’s 2022-2023 Urban Series Warfighting Experiment which was hosted by the Royal Navy.

by Dr. Thomas Withington