Tactical radio research promises new advances
By Argie Sarantinos-Perrin, PEO C3T
The Army formed the new Unified Lab for Tactical Radios – Army, known as ULTRA, to combine research, development, sustainment and acquisition efforts for the Army’s radio portfolio in a single location.
The new facility combines U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, Program Executive Office C3T and Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center personnel and resources to provide economies of scale and better coordination of radio technologies throughout their lifecycle, officials said.
A Jan. 7, 2014, ribbon-cutting ceremony for the ULTRA facility, which is located on the C4ISR campus at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., officially inaugurated an effort to support the full lifecycle of Army radios, from research and development, to procurement and management, to sustainment.
Radios represented in the laboratory include a variety of current program of record and commercial products managed by PEO C3T’s PM Tactical Radios, as well as legacy and future systems.
“The synergies that can exist on this campus are amazing for the Army,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes, program executive officer for C3T. “This lab will enable a future for Army communications for our radio procurements and for the expansion and enhancement of the technology that we have in the field today.”
In order to provide the best and easiest to use radios for Soldiers, the ULTRA facility will perform testing, integration, capability upgrades and troubleshooting of various tactical radios. The Army’s latest software-defined radios – currently used in Afghanistan by two brigade combat teams from the 10th Mountain Division – enable Soldiers to communicate and maintain situational awareness beyond line of sight, by using advanced waveforms that create mobile, ad-hoc networks.
Before radios are sent to Afghanistan and other locations, they must go through rigorous testing both individually and as part of the holistic Army network. The ULTRA team will perform some of these evaluations to ensure interoperability between current and future radio systems, as well as conduct realistic risk reduction activities prior to additional external test events and fielding.
With each new evolution, the Army’s tactical radios deliver more capabilities; however, they also become more complex to oversee and maintain. By pooling resources and expertise, the ULTRA team will not only ensure that current and future radios are properly maintained and integrated into the network, but also provide evolving support throughout their lifecycle.
“One of the big benefits of this laboratory is that we’re going to be able to collect up those people that we have with those technical talents and use them to train other people so that we can grow our workforce right in this lab,” said Dr. Paul Zablocky, director of the CERDEC Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate. “ULTRA goes that next step and we start sharing human resources and human capital and grow them together.”
The CSI4R campus is also home to other network laboratories and integration facilities, including the C4ISR Systems Integration Laboratory and the Tactical Systems Integration Facility. The facilities’ interoperability, connectivity and close proximity will enable the information gathered in ULTRA to feed other activities and vice versa, eliminating duplicative efforts and redundancies.
“We’re going to leverage the investment that we made in the CSIL,” said Scott Newman, ULTRA lab manager and program director for Systems Engineering and Integration, CERDEC S&TCD. “We’re going to work hand-in-hand to make sure this new lab is a success.”
The ULTRA facility is positioned to support the Army’s new acquisition strategy for tactical radios that promotes full and open competition among all industry partners.
By serving in a dual capacity as the Soldier Radio Waveform Reference Implementation Lab, the ULTRA facility will ensure interoperability of SRW among multiple vendors’ hardware platforms. Additionally, the ULTRA team will be able to collect and analyze data on numerous vendors’ systems in a single location.
When the lab is completed, it will be dedicated to Paul Angelini and Wayne Hugo, who made significant contributions to the Army’s tactical radio programs. Angelini, who began his career at CERDEC in 1999, researched and developed small disposable radios and also supported the development of the SRW that is used by sensors, munitions, tactical missiles and Soldiers.
Hugo, who began his government career in 1984, was also instrumental in developing the SRW. His work on the Soldier Level Integrated Communications Environment project was used to develop the SRW that is used for integration and porting onto joint tactical radio systems platforms.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, senior leaders said ULTRA serves as an example of the synergies achieved on the C4ISR campus.
“The idea of being able to share on the capital investments for laboratories, minimizing the investments from each of the organizations and then growing a workforce collectively that can work across the lifecycle will benefit us all,” said Gary Martin, acting director, CECOM.