DOD runs interoperability tests on commercial JTRS radios

JTRS program engineers recently tested several commercial radios' ability to operate through the Soldier Radio Waveform.

As the Army ramps up for its upcoming biannual Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), it first must make sure that all of the new systems participating in the event work and interoperate with other gear. This initial testing focused on how well the waveforms developed for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) operated on radios manufactured by commercial vendors.

The core of the Army’s modernization efforts, JTRS is a family of software-programmable radios designed to replace the many different radios in use with a single device capable of managing multiple waveforms. To make sure that commercially developed radios slated for testing at this year’s NIE can work together and handle the JTRS waveforms, the JTRS Reference Implementation Laboratory conducted a Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) Interoperability Quicklook (SIQ) on Sept. 6-16 at the Navy’s Space and Naval Systems Warfare Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego.

The SIQ is about risk management and troubleshooting prior to the NIE, said Albert Pleskus, acting chief engineer for network enterprise domains at SPAWAR. He said the SIQ is an informal event held with the goal of seeing how the radios interoperate before moving onto the rigorous NIE held at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in late October and early November.

During the September tests, JTRS program test engineers successfully formed a radio network consisting of six different types of SRW-compatible radios, including two developed under contract by the JTRS program: the Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) and Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit (HMS) Rifleman Radio. Participating commercial radios included the ITT Soldier Radio-Rifleman, ITT Side Hat Radio, Harris AN/PRC-117G, and the Northrop Grumman Freedom Radio.

The primary intent behind the SIQ is to see how well vendors have integrated the JTRS waveforms onto their radios and how well they interoperate with other military and vendor-provided radios. There were some tweaks and modifications made on the waveforms used on the test radios to see how well they interoperated, but the event was a success because all of the systems worked without any major problems or surprises, Pleskus said.

The testing included both static and mobile configurations of the radios. Each vendor provided multiple radios, which allowed engineers to form networks with up to 14 nodes, said Jeff Mercer, director of public affairs with the JTRS Joint Program Executive Office.

The waveforms are key to the JTRS program and to the Army’s new agile acquisition process, Mercer said. Any commercial vendors not participating or supporting an established, ongoing program of record must have equipment that runs the waveforms and can interoperate with other types and makes of software defined radios. The SRW is one of several waveforms developed for the JTRS program. It is designed to support tactical communications at the company level and below.

This is especially important in light of the recent cancellation of the GMR part of the JTRS program. The Army is now working on a process to select a radio based on existing commercial systems, such as those being tested at the SIQ.

The first SIQ was a laboratory test held at SPAWAR’s Charleston facility before the first NIE held in late May and early June of 2011. The plan is to run another event in late winter 2011 or early spring 2012 prior to the spring NIE, Pleskus said.

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