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AUSA 2018: US Army modernisation sees boost for Harris

8th October 2018 - 14:00 GMT | by Grant Turnbull in Washington DC

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Communication specialist Harris is ramping up efforts to support US Army modernisation as several radio programmes move to production phase and planned deliveries of new software-defined radios begin for the service.

Brendan O’Connell, the president of tactical communications at Harris Communication Systems, told Shephard that DoD budgets were ‘very favourable’ at the moment and that the company was positioned well in several areas.

This is especially the case when it comes to the US Army’s handheld, manpack and small-form fit (HMS) programme, which aims to deliver software reprogrammable, networkable multi-mode systems capable of simultaneous voice, tactical messaging, and streaming data.

Part of that is the Leader Radio (LR) programme, which Harris was awarded a contract to begin production on last month with its AN/PRC-163 two-channel radio solution. This represents a step up in capability from the one-channel Rifleman Radio previously acquired by the US Army.

In addition to the LR contract, an award for the AN/PRC-158 manpack radio was also awarded in the spring, with deliveries of that capability now underway in both vehicular and dismount variants.

‘It’s some of the latest generation communications technology,’ said O’Connell. ‘Clearly what is different from the past is you have multiple channels in a single manpack [and there’s] a lot of SWaP developments.’

The AN/PRC-158 manpack’s two channels can transmit and receive voice and data simultaneously and also support legacy narrowband waveforms such as SINGCARS. The AN/PRC-158 will also include newer wideband waveforms including the Soldier Radio Waveform and Harris’s own ANW2 mobile ad-hoc networking waveform, as well as a Mobile User Objective System waveform for satellite communications.

One capability singled out by O’Connell is the ability for the two-channel radios to ‘crossband’, allowing a radio to receive voice or data on one waveform and transmit on another. This increases the ability for forces to share voice and data across a variety of networks.

The company is also working on several new technologies, including smaller form factor data link radios to pipe ISR data from aircraft to ground forces. In April, Harris was awarded a $130 million contract by the US Air Force to develop a new handheld video data link (VDL) radio.

O’Connell told Shephard that what were once two distinct capabilities, he now saw a convergence between traditional common data link radios and communication radios. This is evidenced by new ‘mission modules’ being developed by Harris for the AN/PRC-163 that ‘clip on’ to the radio and expand its capabilities.

One type of mission module could be to relay ISR data from aircraft, while other clip-ons could allow the radios to work over the Iridium satellite constellation. 

‘It provides an extreme amount of capability without being an integral part of the radio on every mission,’ said O’Connell, adding that these modules could be ready for customers in around 18 months.

Small quantities of the new two-channel radios are believed to have been delivered to Five Eyes partner nations, likely in order to increase interoperability with forces that are deployed as part of coalition operations. O’Connell also noted opportunities for Harris’s new PRC-160 HF radios, which have significantly improved data rates over traditional HF radios.

‘HF is going to continue and surge to some extent in the next few years because of the threats that exist out there,’ said O’Connell.

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