SRW Appliqué and Agile Bidding: Vehicle Voice and Data

The Army is using a streamlined bidding process to save time and money as it searches for an inexpensive way of adding networking capabilities to SINCGARS-radio-equipped vehicles.

One of the Army's first full-and-open networking radio competitions is
 expected to conclude sometime in mid-2013 when a winning bidder is selected for the vehicle-mounted Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) Appliqué Radio System, a single-channel, vehicle-mounted software-defined radio designed for use by Brigade Combat Teams (BCT).

The Army plans to purchase about 5,000 of these radios. The final contract will include a five-year base period, plus five one-year option periods. General Dynamics C4 Systems, Harris and ITT Exelis are among the bidders.

An Add-on Solution

The SRW Appliqué will essentially add SRW networking capabilities to current Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) VRC-92 installations. The add-on data transmission module will enable the radios to transmit information between the squad- and team-level JTRS Rifleman Radio and the Army's larger tactical communications network. The new systems will serve as a conduit for voice and data between the dismounted soldiers, their units and higher headquarters, thereby increasing situational awareness.

Many in the vendor community view the SRW Appliqué as an inexpensive alternative to a manpack radio. Each SRW Appliqué is expected to cost the Army about $20,000, compared to $78,000 for a two-channel digital manpack. The Army itself has admitted that the SRW Appliqué is intended to serve as an interim solution until the two-channel, vehicle-mounted component of the JTRS Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit or HMS family of radios is approved for fielding. (The Rifleman Radio is part of the HMS program.)

"The Army is acquiring Appliqués in connection with the rollout of its tactical network," said Ken Arndt, manager of Harris RF Communications' handheld; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and accessory product lines, based in Rochester, N.Y. Arndt observed that the Army has expressed a need for single-channel wideband radios "that can operate alongside of and interoperate with" existing SINGCARS radios. "The Army in its RFP indicated it was looking for the radios to provide position location information (PLI) data and voice communications to areas of the Brigade Combat Team where they currently do not exist," he added.

Agile Bidding

While the SRW Appliqué isn't a particularly remarkable technology, the system's bidding procedure, which the Army has dubbed the "Agile Process," is generating a significant amount of interest within the vendor community and beyond. The Army describes the Agile Process as a new, quick-reaction acquisition methodology that's designed to address defined capability gaps and insert new technologies into the overall network at a lower cost. The Army hopes that the new approach will accelerate the pace of network modernization to a rate unachievable using traditional acquisition strategies.

The Agile Process aims to enable commercial technologies to be introduced and evaluated within a controlled setting. The phased process culminates in a Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), which the Army has established as an operational environment at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, supported by laboratory analysis at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

“The Army’s transformational 'Agile Process' ensures that the Army can keep pace with rapid technology maturation while validating new solutions to the military’s most urgent needs," said Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems, headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It also improves the efficiency and effectiveness in delivering new capabilities to soldiers by reducing the time and costs associated with its development."

"The agile process provides a very good value to the warfighter in the current market environment," said Chris Ager, product line director of Wayne, N.J.-based BAE Network Communications Systems. "The process can adapt to changing environments and appears to be a good fit for the current environment."

"The ... Agile Process is meant to introduce new products quickly into the Army architecture, by assessing them at NIE and so forth," added Chris Brady, vice president of assured communications for General Dynamics C4 Systems. "But in this instance, NIE participation is not a requirement for this contract; it was just an opportunity for us to show the capability of our system, and some of the other bidders also brought their wares to the NIE," he added.

Arndt said he applauds the Army for developing the Agile Process and holding the bi-annual NIEs. "Information technology cycles so quickly that it’s vital for DOD to maintain a true competitive environment in acquisition of information technology, especially tactical radio," he observed.

Arndt said he believes that a free and open competition will produce more rapid innovation at an affordable cost while delivering a better value than the traditional program-of-record approach. "The government should set the standards for the products they need and then allow industry to meet or exceed them," Arndt said. "The Army has embraced this idea with the Applique; we expect they’ll follow the same path in other radio acquisition programs planned for 2013, such as the HMS manpack."

Bidders and Systems

Brady said that it was logical for General Dynamics to enter the SRW Appliqué competition, since the company already had a product on hand that met the RFP's basic specifications. "We are using a radio that has already been through operational tests and is in low rates of initial production," he said. "It's our Rifleman radio, which is normally a handheld radio, but for the SRW Appliqué application we just put that radio into a vehicle mount."

Brady feels that General Dynamics has a good shot at winning the contract. "We believe we have the most operationally proven radio, and the whole system—with the vehicle mount—has been through the NIE," he said. "The reviews were favorable and the performance was very good; we think we have a very competitive price for the product, and so we look forward to the Army's decision."

Harris, meanwhile, is hoping to win the SRW Appliqué contract with its Harris Side Falcon, which integrates the current Falcon III AN/PRC-152A handheld radio with a small-form-factor wideband power amplifier, a combination that's designed to provide increased range and reliability. Arndt noted that Harris' SRW Appliqué solution draws heavily from the company's existing wideband radio technology.

The Side Falcon supports the Harris Adaptive Networking Wideband Waveform (ANW2), as well as SRW, Arndt said. The, Side Falcon also supports VHF/UHF Line-of-Sight, HaveQuick, Integrated Waveform (IW) for tactical satellite communications and other combat net radio waveforms. "Our Appliqué will connect soldiers in the foxhole with tactical operation centers and is fully interoperable with other deployed radio systems," Arndt said.

ITT Exelis' entry in the SRW Appliqué Agile Process is SideHat, a simple radio solution that's designed to quickly attach to existing SINCGARS radio installations. Ken Flowers, director of networked communications business development for ITT Exelis, based in McLean, Va., noted that SideHat meets the Army's requirement for rapid, affordable and interoperable wideband network communications designed for Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) deployments and other SRW applications. "Using SideHat, mounted and dismounted soldiers can exchange vital voice and data, including video and position location information, simultaneously in real time," he said. "SideHat enables a more accurate picture of the battlefield, fratricide avoidance and battle command on-the-move."

Flowers believes that ITT Exelis is well positioned to bid on SRW Appliqué, since it's the company that developed the SRW waveform. "We won the contract and developed the waveform," he said. "That waveform was then put into a repository ... so everybody is operating on that same sheet of music, if you will; we're all using the same version of the same waveform."

Flowers said that SIdeHat takes advantage of the space made available by a shrinking SINCGARS form factor. "As we evolved SINCGARS, and the radio itself became smaller, it made space available in the mount," Flowers said. "We've offered a radio that took advantage of the existing real estate, which is a value-add for the Army."

The biggest challenge ITT Exelis has faced so far, Flowers said, has been getting the system certified by the National Security Agency. "Not from a technical standpoint, but just getting it into the process," he explained. "But we are virtually through that now," he added.

BAE, considered by many observers a likely SRW Appliqué bidder, probably won't enter the fray. "BAE Systems is unlikely to bid," said BAE’s Chris Ager. "BAE Systems is currently focusing on the Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radio (MNVR) acquisition," he stated.

According to Ager, BAE's Phoenix MNVR is a "total solution" that provides "not only SRW and SINCGARS compatibility, but also WNW (wideband networking waveform) with robust anti-jam capability and a longer range for communications." He noted that the Phoenix was "designed to fit into the existing dual-SINCGARS radio space in the Army’s ground vehicle."

Thales, a probable SRW Appliqué bidder, declined to comment on its plans.

Downside of the Agile Process

While most vendors have generally positive things to say about the Agile Process, Flowers feels that the system has some flaws, particularly the pressures it places on bidders. The costs associated with the need to rapidly create and present designs creates a significant burden, he said.

"If you're a loser, particularly on more than one occasion, it could cause you to go out of business in that particular marketplace," Flowers said. "You can't continually bring capability to the dance ... without either having a win, or somebody investing in you—and by invest, I mean the DOD with acquisitions [or] with development dollars. "

Additional Online Resources

Full description of the Army's Agile Process

Complete details on the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) are available on the Army's Networking the Soldier website