Magazine article National Defense

Closest of Allies, but Not When It Comes Radios

Magazine article National Defense

Closest of Allies, but Not When It Comes Radios

Article excerpt

British and U.S. military commanders for years have been told that they would soon be able to talk and share data over a joint radio network.

Despite considerable advances in tactical communications technology--particularly in software-based radio and digital encryption --interoperability on the battlefield between U.S. and U.K. forces remains years away.

In two separate technical demonstrations during the past three years, U.S. government engineers and contractors tested the compatibility between the Defense Department's joint tactical radio system and the U.K. Ministry of Defense's Bowman tactical radio network. Both tests by all accounts were successful, but the uncertain fate of the Pentagon's JTRS program could derail ongoing efforts to achieve seamless connectivity between U.S. and U.K. troops.

Representatives from the Defense Department and the Ministry of Defense signed an agreement in September 2002 to enhance battlefield interoperability via the U.K. Bowman communications system. Soon after, the JTRS program office awarded a contract to ITT Corp. of Clifton, N.J., to develop a joint tactical radio system Bowman waveform--a software application that would allow JTRS users to add the U.K. radio system into the U.S. network.

The agreement also brought into the fold the U.K.-developed Pritchell II cryptographic algorithm--an unprecedented level of technical data sharing, according to U.S. officials. The JTRS program office contracted with Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., to deliver a "cryptographic equipment application" that would incorporate the U.K. algorithm on the Harris Sierra II encryption devices that are used in U.S. joint tactical radios.

A July 2004 test at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., proved that both networks could exchange voice and data. Since then, however, the JTRS program suffered technical setbacks and delays, and the Defense Department put in place a new management structure. During the past two years, the U.S. military services have scaled back funds for future purchases of JTRS as they have poured billions of dollars into new non-JTRS combat radios that were urgently needed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to sources close to JTRS, Defense Department officials are still unsure on how to move forward with the U.K. joint program, even though British officials have offered steady support and have committed to funding half the cost of programming JTRS radios with the Bowman waveform.

In June 2007, the Defense Department hosted the second demonstration of JTRS-Bowman connectivity. At ITT's New Jersey facility, officials tested a VHF (very high frequency) joint tactical radio system Bowman waveform equipped with Pritchell II encryption.

"This was an important step in realizing U.S.-U.K. tactical command-and-control interoperability," said Sonja L. Hanson, a JTRS spokeswoman at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

The U.K. waveform used in the test is the Bowman "advanced digital radio," also known as ADR+. It is a derivative of the U.S. Army's single channel ground to air radio system (SINCGARS), which also is an ITT product.

"The information exchange included clear and encrypted voice, and data communications in both fixed and frequency hopping modes," Hanson said via email. The test also showed that the U. …

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