terABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (December 7, 2020) - The Army is just a little over a month away from performing a large-scale operational test event to prove four of its state-of-the art, multi-channel networked radios meet Soldier-defined standards required to field across the entire Army.
These standards include radio performance and the ability to integrate into both legacy and proposed systems, adding greater performance and flexibility to the Army’s network. The Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit (HMS) Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E), will feature the latest Manpack and Leader Radios, operated by paratroopers with the 1-504 Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division (1/82 ABN), in an operationally realistic test environment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Data from the test will be collected by the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), providing a third-party, unbiased look at the radio systems’ performance. The follow-on report will influence the Army’s decision to proceed to full-rate production for the two-channel AN/PRC-158 and AN/PRC-162 Manpack radios, along with the two-channel AN/PRC-148C and AN/PRC-163 leader radios variants.
“We have conducted multiple events over the past two years to prepare for the IOT&E,” said Lt. Col. Raymond Yu, product manager for HMS, part of Project Manager Tactical Radios (TR) and assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). “We began with early lab activities and progressed to vendor events, developmental test and training events and cybersecurity survivability testing.”
The success of the most recent event, an operational test readiness review, led to the approval by the Army’s Operational Test Command’s commander to move the test to its final planning stages, bringing the team one step closer to the long-awaited full-rate production decision.
“We’re thrilled to see the IOT&E come to fruition, especially since we were forced to alter our original test schedule due to COVID-19 delays,” Yu said. “We called upon our ingenuity, flexibility and dedication to pivot the resources necessary to conduct the right amount of radio training and testing to confidently proceed.”
Some of the specific events leading up to the IOT&E included three, field-based risk-reduction exercises conducted in conjunction with the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team, using all four radios to assess performance and interoperability with legacy and emerging products. Soldiers assessed current radio waveform sets, including legacy Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, legacy and modern tactical satellite communications and the commercially available TSM and SECRET and TSM-based Warrior Robust Enhanced Network (WREN) Narrowband waveforms, which operate at SECRET and below.
“Commercial waveforms are proving themselves to be adaptable, efficient and secure forms of modern communications,” Yu said. “In conjunction with tried-and-true legacy waveforms, Soldiers require newer, commercially available waveforms, providing multiple communications pathways and a back-up plan in case their waveform becomes compromised.”
TSM provides Sensitive but Unclassified voice and data to the tactical edge, and enhances ease-of-use, large scalability, interoperability and network reliability. The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center–developed WREN TSM variant provides enhanced security, certified National Security Agency (NSA) Type-1 voice and data communication, which means the product is approved to handle U.S. Government classified information, while maintaining the attributes of the TSM commercial waveform.
The risk-reduction exercises for the radios and waveforms culminated in a large-scale, Production Qualification Test (PQT) capstone event in July and August at the Electronic Proving Ground (EPG), Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The test brought ATEC, Army Capabilities Manager for Tactical Radios, C5ISR Center and PM TR personnel together to vigorously test the performance of both the Manpack and Leader Radio variants.
“We were encouraged by the success of the PQT because it showcased the radio’s ability to meet range requirements in a variety of test-realistic environments,” said Derek Harberts, deputy PdM for Tactical Radios. “The event also showcased some areas of improvement that have been rapidly addressed by the vendor and confirmed prior to completing the event.”
Most recently, PM TR personnel conducted extensive system-of-system tests at Electronic Proving Ground (EPG), not only showcasing the technical capabilities of the radios, but also their ability to interoperate with legacy and emerging technologies. Personnel also performed electronic warfare and cybersecurity testing, both at EPG and Fort Hood, Texas, which showcased the radios’ ability to withstand realistic threats in an operational environment.
Throughout the IOT&E preparations, PEO C3T prioritized radio operations training for both the Soldiers and the program office trainers.
“Our team created and conducted training courses, both in-person and virtually when required, to adhere to strict COVID restrictions, ensuring Soldiers could focus on their operational objective during the IOTE&E and not be distracted by radio functions,” Yu said.
Upon completion of the IOT&E, ATEC will review the data to make a fielding recommendation, which if favorable, will lead to an official decision by the Army Acquisition Executive for the HMS radios to enter Full Rate Production (FRP), with the first FRP buy in FY2021, and initial fieldings in FY2022.
Following IOT&E, PM TR will continue to conduct annual Performance Verification Tests to both mitigate any remaining issues and confirm any required upgrades to the radios prior to release into the field.
“We understand that our equipment must meet critical operational objectives, especially for paratroopers who operate these radios under extreme environmental and combat situations,” said Col. Garth Winterle, project manager for TR. “We feel confident that our efforts over the past two years and our upcoming IOT&E will provide the Army with sufficient data to make an informed decision to field these radios across the force.”