Talking Dutch

Dutch Military Communications
The Dutch military’s Foxtrot programme will see a major enhancement of the communications used across the country’s armed forces. The MTBB phase of the project focuses on the procurement of new tactical radio hardware and software.

Discussions concerning the procurement of new tactical radios to support the Dutch military’s Foxtrot communications modernisation programme are entering their final stages. 

The Netherlands Ministry of Defence (MOD) is in the process of deciding which radios will fulfil the requirements of the country’s Military Transmission Building Block (MTBB) programme. MTBB forms a key part of the wider Foxtrot military digitisation programme being rolled out across the Dutch armed forces. Foxtrot will transition the Dutch military into an integrated force capable of performing Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) according to reports. MDO stresses the intra- and interconnectivity of all forces to perform rapid, synchronous operations at all levels of war. MTBB focuses on the acquisition of the communications hardware and software necessary to facilitate Foxtrot. A spokesperson for the Dutch MOD told Armada that “(Foxtrot) is responsible for the modernisation of communication equipment within a vast number of vehicles, vessels, aircraft and other operational units.”

Recent radios

L3Harris was selected in November 2023 to answer the MTBB requirement. The Dutch military already uses the company’s products. In May 2023, L3Harris won a contract to provide AN/PRC-117G and AN/PRC-163 radios to modernise the Dutch military’s ground-to-air/air-to-ground radios. The AN/PRC-117G is a 20-watt/W backpack radio covering a 30 megahertz/MHz to two gigahertz/GHz waveband. The handheld, ten-watt AN/PRC-163 radio covers wavebands of 30MHz to 2.6GHz. These radios were procured outside the MTBB framework. Meanwhile, in 2020 Elbit Systems won a contract to supply its E-Lynx tactical radios, although precisely which radios were provided was not made public.

The spokesperson declined to specify exactly what radios were being supplied by L3Harris. Sources close to the programme told Armada that discussions were ongoing regarding specific models, as of June. While the specific radio types are yet to be defined, the source said that Type-1 encryption is an MTBB pre-requisite. Type-1 is a United States National Security Agency encryption standard representing one of the highest encryption standards used by the US government and select US allies.

Likewise, no details have been supplied on which waveforms these radios will accommodate. The spokespersons did say that “Waveforms are an essential prerequisite for interoperability in the mobile tactical domain and are thus an important part of MTBB.” Through the Foxtrot programme, the MOD is “committed to acquire multiple waveforms to create maximum interoperability with (inter)national partners.” Armada’s source confirmed that elements of the radio’s specifications are also subject to ongoing discussions. The spokesperson’s reference to procuring waveforms to foster “maximum interoperability” is interesting. This maybe a tacit indication that the Dutch MOD may be considering procuring the European Secure Software Defined Radio (ESSOR) High-Data Rate Waveform (HDRWF). More information on this waveform can be found here.

Moving forward

It remains unclear exactly which of the Dutch military’s existing radios will be replaced via the MTBB undertaking: “The exact radios that will be replaced have not been made public,” said the spokesperson. They added that several of the current radios are “several years past the end of their technical and operational life. Manufacturers provide limited support and maintenance for these assets, and they are increasingly difficult to replace or repair.”

It appears likely that the E-Lynx, AN/PRC-117G and AN/PRC-163 radios will remain in service, given their recent procurement. However, the Thales PR4G radios that the Dutch MOD procured in 2008 could be one candidate for replacement. Circa 10,000 of these Very High Frequency (VHF: 30MHz to 88MHz) were supplied to the Dutch military in various configurations. The Dutch MOD declined to state when deliveries of the L3Harris MTBB radios will commence. Nonetheless, given that discussions on the exact model of radios to be supplied are in the final stages, it is reasonable to assume deliveries will begin within the next two-to-three years.

by Dr Thomas Withington