National Guard March 2011 : Page 28

New Connections The Army Guard is finally getting its full requirement of SINCGARS radios, just as a wave of new communications equipment emerges on the horizon By William Matthews T WAS 1983 and ITT had just won a contract to build a better combat radio for the U.S. Army— SINCGARS. Little noticed at the time, another communications device debuted—the cell phone. Motorola had been developing a portable, wireless telephone for a decade and was finally ready to start selling the DynaTAC 8000x. It was the size of a quart milk carton, not counting the six-inch antenna, and it weighed a pound. Its bulk quickly earned it a nickname—The Brick. And it cost $3,995, nearly $9,000 in today’s dollars. Compared to the DynaTAC brick, I SINCGARS—the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Sys-tem—was a cinder block, weighing 18 pounds and measuring three inches tall and a foot square. It cost $17,500 in 1984, about $37,300 today. It took ITT six years after winning the SINCGARS contract to start field-ing radios to the troops. By then, Mo-torola had developed the MicroTAC, a flip-phone small enough for your pocket with a price tag of $2,500. The man-pack version of SINC-GARS today weighs just 7.6 pounds. The Army National Guard, so often pushed to back of the equip-ment-fielding line, expects to finally receive its full authorized require-ment—134,197 radios in all by fall. There will be one “for every plat-form that moves on the battlefield under its own power,” says James Bowden, the SINCGARS project leader at the Army’s Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Mon-mouth, N.J. And there will be tens of thousands of man-portable SINC-GARS for Guard troops. The demand for SINCGARS radios has “soared” in recent years because they’re needed for the two wars, and because the next generation Joint Tac-tical Radio System has fallen behind in development and risen in cost. While a vehicle-mounted SINC-GARS now costs about $20,000, its JTRS replacement “is estimated to cost up to 10 times more,” the Govern-ment Accountability Office reports. SINCGARS began as a voice radio, but has been upgraded to transmit photos, videos and other digital data. It’s long been the Army’s workhorse radio and is expected to remain so. Bowden says more than 400,000 are projected to be in use through 2030. Since SINCGARS and JTRS are compatible, “SINCGARS will remain across the entire force when JTRS is completely fielded,” Bowden says. But the paths of SINCGARS and 28 | Na tional Guard

New Connections

William Matthews

The Army Guard is finally getting its full requirement of SINCGARS radios, just as a wave of new communications equipment emerges on the horizon<br /> <br /> IT WAS 1983 and ITT had just won a contract to build a better combat radio for the U.S. Army– SINCGARS. Little noticed at the time, another communications device debuted–the cell phone.<br /> <br /> Motorola had been developing a portable, wireless telephone for a decade and was finally ready to start selling the DynaTAC 8000x. It was the size of a quart milk carton, not counting the six-inch antenna, and it weighed a pound. Its bulk quickly earned it a nickname–The Brick. And it cost $3,995, nearly $9,000 in today's dollars.<br /> <br /> Compared to the DynaTAC brick, SINCGARS–the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System– was a cinder block, weighing 18 pounds and measuring three inches tall and a foot square. It cost $17,500 in 1984, about $37,300 today.<br /> <br /> It took ITT six years after winning the SINCGARS contract to start fielding radios to the troops. By then, Motorola had developed the MicroTAC, a flip-phone small enough for your pocket with a price tag of $2,500.<br /> <br /> The man-pack version of SINCGARS today weighs just 7.6 pounds.<br /> <br /> The Army National Guard, so often pushed to back of the equipment- fielding line, expects to finally receive its full authorized requirement– 134,197 radios in all by fall.<br /> <br /> There will be one "for every platform that moves on the battlefield under its own power," says James Bowden, the SINCGARS project leader at the Army's Communications- Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J. And there will be tens of thousands of man-portable SINCGARS for Guard troops.<br /> <br /> The demand for SINCGARS radios has "soared" in recent years because they're needed for the two wars, and because the next generation Joint Tactical Radio System has fallen behind in development and risen in cost.<br /> <br /> While a vehicle-mounted SINCGARS now costs about $20,000, its JTRS replacement "is estimated to cost up to 10 times more," the Government Accountability Office reports.<br /> <br /> SINCGARS began as a voice radio, but has been upgraded to transmit photos, videos and other digital data.<br /> <br /> It's long been the Army's workhorse radio and is expected to remain so. Bowden says more than 400,000 are projected to be in use through 2030.<br /> <br /> Since SINCGARS and JTRS are compatible, "SINCGARS will remain across the entire force when JTRS is completely fielded," Bowden says.<br /> <br /> But the paths of SINCGARS and cell phones are about to cross again, and combat communications might take a dramatically different course.<br /> <br /> Cell phones, specifically smart phones, are challenging SINCGARS as the communications device of choice.<br /> <br /> The Army is testing a variety of smart phones, e-book readers, handheld tablet computers and other compact communications devices to see how well they can handle military assignments, from improving situational awareness in combat to teaching troops in basic training.<br /> <br /> "Our initial successes were significant to the point where we have gotten guidance from senior leaders in the Army to accelerate testing," says Michael McCarthy, director of operations for the Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, Texas.<br /> <br /> Last summer, the Army launched an initiative called Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications, and it has been testing smart phones and other hand-held devices ever since. Soldiers have been armed with Androids and iPhones, BlackBerries, Palm Treos, Touch Pros and other handhelds to "just get an idea of what we can do with them," says John Pedroza, deputy chief of technology for the mission command capabilities division of the Army's Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss.<br /> <br /> Last December at Fort Bliss, soldiers from the Army Evaluation Task Force tested smart phones running applications specifically designed to support troops in combat.<br /> <br /> They used a Blue Force tracker application to monitor the whereabouts of friendly forces. With a biometric application and a smart phone camera, they snapped pictures of suspicious people and then compared them to photos of known insurgents stored in a distant database.<br /> <br /> They used a speech recognition application that translates English into Dari, Pashto and other languages, and translates those languages into English. And an optical character reader app enabled soldiers to translate foreign graffiti into English and glean at least a basic understanding of captured foreign language documents.<br /> <br /> For the December tests, soldiers first conducted a training exercise without using smart phones, then ran through a similar scenario using them.<br /> <br /> The first exercise was deemed a modest success after soldiers killed three members of the opposing force. On the second try, using smart phones, "they ran the biometric application and determined that one of the casualties was a high-priority target," McCarthy says.<br /> <br /> And after transmitting photos and other information to an operations center, they realized that they had seized a bomb factory, "not just some bad guys." Smart phones enabled the soldiers "to send information back to the team and put the pieces of the puzzle together faster," he says.<br /> <br /> Smart phones may also speed up medical evacuation requests. The phone supplies rescue personnel with the location through GPS coordinates, "so you don't have to pull a map out in the middle of a gunfight to figure out where you are," McCarthy says.<br /> <br /> But how often is there cell phone service on a battlefield?<br /> <br /> Always, once the Army fully develops its "expeditionary cellular capability," McCarthy says. The technology for setting up networks quickly in remote and hostile areas already exists.<br /> <br /> Information security is a central concern. What happens if a smart phone is captured by the enemy? What if transmissions are intercepted?<br /> <br /> One answer is encryption. Transmissions and data stored in phones would be scrambled so that they're meaningless to anyone who doesn't have the decryption key.<br /> <br /> If a phone is lost or captured, the Army also wants the ability to remotely wipe the phone's memory clean, says Lt. Col. Greg Motes, chief of the Army's mobile applications branch. That technology exists, too, but some questions remain.<br /> <br /> "Does it actually wipe it, or can a hacker get in" and reconstruct the deleted data, Motes wonders.<br /> <br /> Smart phones are equally impressive for training.<br /> <br /> In one test, smart phones were loaded with course material for the advanced individual training and distributed to groups of soldiers. The first group that used the phones "graduated two weeks earlier with a 14-point higher grade average," Mc- Carthy says.<br /> <br /> It wasn't a fluke. Results for a second group were nearly the same.<br /> <br /> "This is a potential opportunity to fundamentally change how soldiers access information and training," Mc- Carthy says.<br /> <br /> Smart phones cost from $200 to $600, but if the Army decides to buy one for every soldier, it should get a significant price break, McCarthy says.<br /> <br /> "The Army needs to make a decision on what level of funding it can afford. Does every soldier need a smart phone? The initial assessment is yes," he says.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the Army is testing another communications innovation designed to use smart, low-cost handheld devices. It's called the Wireless Network After Next (WNaN).<br /> <br /> The network is built around fourchannel radios that are about the size of walkie talkies. They're packed with enough computing power to automatically search for and connect to one another, establish a network, temporarily store data when connections are dropped, automatically switch channels to re-establish communication and then forward the stored data.<br /> <br /> Built of inexpensive commercial parts, the radios are designed to cost about $500 apiece, cheap enough, says the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, "to allow use by every warfighter and vehicle at every level of command and control."<br /> <br /> WNaN radios are intended to send and receive voice communications, video, photos, maps, Blue Force tracker data and other information to improve situational awareness and enhance command and control, says Jason Redi, the principal investigator on WNaN for BBN Technologies, which worked with DARPA to develop the network.<br /> <br /> WNaN, which has been tested by the Army Training and Doctrine Command's Experimental Force at Fort Benning, Ga., "will need about another year for testing, training, and maturation before it goes into theater," Redi says.<br /> <br /> "There's a lot going on in the commercial world that is new and exciting," says Lt. Col. Avery Leider, a Florida Army Guard officer assigned as the National Guard Bureau liaison officer to the Logistics Readiness Center at the Communications-Electronics Command–Life Cycle Command. But for the time being, the Army Guard's focus is on SINCGARS.<br /> <br /> The Guard has 105,150 SINCGARS radios and should receive another 29,000 this year, Bowden says.<br /> <br /> And "after we get a radio, we may keep it for a long, long time," Leider says. "Its life cycle may be much longer than the original design if it turns out to be practical, durable and reliable."<br /> <br /> SINCGARS is that in spades. It's nuclear-hardened, able to operate between -50 degrees to more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and is protected against vehicle vibration, shock, humidity, rain, dust, salt and fog.<br /> <br /> But in the fast-evolving communications world, SINCGARS is showing some limitations.<br /> <br /> SINCGARS radios are designed on the premise "that we have a limited amount of radio frequency bandwidth available to us in a crowded domain of many who want to be in that space," Leider says. "New methods of communication have changed that quite a bit. We can get more [data] through the same amount of electronic space than we used to."<br /> <br /> In the new environment, "SINCGARS may bottleneck us. There are things we would like to do that SINCGARS can't," she says.<br /> <br /> Perhaps smart phones and WNaN can.<br /> <br /> "We've been talking with the National Guard in terms of being able to do some things to support their homeland security and consequence management tasks," McCarthy says. "We intend to continue to build with the Guard. When we talk about putting a smart phone in the hand of every soldier, it's every soldier.<br /> <br /> "How and when that occurs, is a senior level Army decision ... but there is clearly a place for the National Guard in this," he says.<br /> <br /> William Matthews is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Va., who specializes in military matters. He can be contacted at magazine@ngaus.org.<br /> <br /> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------<br /> <br /> NGAUS ACTION<br /> Tactical radios and communications equipment have long been NGAUS priorities. Over the past three years, NGAUS has successfully secured an additional $85 million in National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account funds for tactical radios and SINCGARS—$14 million in fiscal 2008, $69.3 million in fiscal 2009 and $2.15 million in fiscal 2010. <br /> <br /> <br />

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here