Navy pumps up the power on MUOS-capable radios

Milpower gets a $29.5 million contract to provide power amplifiers for the Digital Modular Radio, the military’s first standard software-defined system.

The Navy is adding some juice to its Digital Modular Radio program, awarding Milpower Inc. a $29.5 million contract for 100-watt and 200-watt power amplifiers to meet requirements for the Mobile User Objective System, or MUOS. The initial five-year contract includes options that, if exercised, could increase the value of the deal to $66.1 million and allow the contract to run until September 2026.

The Digital Modular Radio, made by General Dynamics, is the military’s first software-defined radio to become a communications standard, supporting multiple waveforms, including HF, VHF, UHF, Satcom and MUOS. It has four full-duplex channels and supports the National Security Agency Multiple Independent Level of Security encryption. And last year, General Dynamics have the radios a software upgrade that expanded their capacity to eight virtual channels. 

MUOS is a five-constellation satellite system intended to give the Navy and other military services smartphone-like, IP-based communications around the globe, delivering voice, video and mission data. It’s based on a direct-sequence spread spectrum Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) waveform and transmits signals at 16 times the rate of the current Ultra High Frequency satellite system.

As a developmental system, MUOS hasn’t been without its glitches. The first of its satellites was launched in 2012, with the fifth, intended as an on-orbit spare, going up in June of this year, although the Navy said an engine failure had at least temporarily prevented it from getting to its preferred geosynchronous orbit. A General Accountability Office report in April 2015, when three of the satellites were in orbit, said the system was having difficulty delivering the WCDMA access, leaving about 90 percent of its capacity going unused. That pushed back the military’s plans to field MUOS-capable radios to this year, from a projected date of 2014.

Along the way, however, the Navy has awarded contracts to General Dynamics and other vendors, such as Rockwell Collins, for radios capable of connecting to MUOS. The Army also has taken part, demonstrating interoperability with the Navy in a joint exercise early this year in Hawaii.