Away from Europe and North America, the tactical radios domain is a hive of activity with suppliers from Australia, Israel, Pakistan and South Africa releasing new transceivers and moving forward on domestic and export procurement programmes.
The Eurosatory defence exhibition held in Paris this June witnessed a number of new products being launched across the radio domain, both in terms of hardware and software. Australia’s Barrett Communications are in the vanguard of High Frequency (three megahertz/MHz to 30MHz) tactical radio provision. The company told the author that the world of HF communications had been experiencing somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, which has been noted elsewhere in this compendium. This is primarily driven by the capabilities which HF can provide in terms of range. Unlike VHF (Very High Frequency: 30-300MHz) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency: 300MHz to three gigahertz/GHz) radio communications which essentially follow a line-of-sight range, HF uses the ionosphere; a section of the atmosphere at 60 kilometres/km (37 miles) to 1000km (620 miles) above the Earth’s surface which acts as a natural ‘dish’ upon which HF communications can bounce so as to achieve intercontinental ranges.
While HF does not necessarily offer the throughput in terms of bandwidth for still and video imagery communications, it can provide voice and data communications across such ranges, and avoids the need for a nation to purchase or lease a Satellite Communications (SATCOM) infrastructure to be able to achieve such distances. This is a particularly important consideration in Africa, where Barrett told the author the company enjoys an increasingly large percentage of the market share in terms of the military HF transceivers used on the continent. HF is in demand in Africa given that the distances across which militaries may need to communicate from forward-deployed troops back to headquarters may well eclipse the ranges offered by V/UHF, while SATCOM maybe unaffordable.
As a reflection of this renaissance, Barrett launched its latest HF transceiver, the 4050 HF software defined radio in May, showcasing this new radio at Eurosatory. The new product has been designed from the outset to be easy to use with an intuitive touch screen display. In addition, the 4050 HF has its own built in WiFi adapter and Ethernet (Internet Protocol) connection which can allow it to be controlled and used remotely. This can be done using civilian devices such as smartphones equipped with either the Android, Windows or iOS (sic) operating system, the latter used by Apple iPhone and iPad products. Frequency hopping and digital encryption options are available ensuring communications security, and despite this new product, Barrett will continue to support its legacy 2050 HF transceiver. Moreover, the company told Armada that new products are in the pipeline include a unique compact liquid-fuelled one kilowatt transmitter, known as the Barrett 4075.
Also showcasing new products at Eurosatory was Israel’s Elbit Systems displaying its E-Lynx tactical radio family. The company told Armada that it had already secured two major orders for its E-Lynx tactical radios, one of which is for an undisclosed NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) member. The firm added that it expects to start shipping these radios to these two customers from 2017. The philosophy behind the E-Lynx family, Elbit stated, was to create a data as well as a voice network. The firm envisages these networks taking the form of a ‘cloud’ which can connect dismounted troops at the Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA), their vehicles and their headquarters, with the intention of providing troops at the FEBA with as much information as possible regarding everything from the targets that they must prosecute to blue and red force locations. Regarding data rates, the company told the author that up to ten megabits-per-second (mbps) of data can be handled by the handheld and vehicular members of the E-Lynx family, with the GRX-8000 radio and antenna which forms part of the E-Lynx family for use at the headquarters level, capable of handling in excess of 100mbps. Ranges of between 100 to 200 kilometres (62 miles to 124 miles) can be achieved with the Mobile Ad Hoc Networking capability of the E-Lynx radios.
Readers are probably wondering which of Elbit’s radios comprise the E-Lynx family. Alongside the GRX-8000 product discussed above, the family includes the PNR-1000. This is a UHF (300 megahertz to three gigahertz) transceiver carrying a narrowband waveform capable of handling around ten megabits-per-second of voice and data, or voice and video traffic. The PNR-1000 also carries a wideband waveform (Elbit Soldier Radio Waveform/ESRW) which can carry up to ten megabits-per-second of data. So far, Chile and Finland have both ordered the PNR-1000, and the radio is undergoing testing as part of a requirement for a new handheld tactical radio from the BENELUX (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) countries. Production of the radio for the BENELUX customers is expected to commence over the next year.
Joining the PNR-1000 is the MCTR-7200 series. The company told Armada that it can run three waveforms simultaneously across the MCTR-7200 family. This can include two tactical narrowband waveforms occupying 25 kilohertz/KHz of bandwidth; one of these can carry 115 kilobits-per-second (kbps) of data, while the second carries up to 150kbps of simultaneous voice and data traffic. The third waveform occupies 1.2MHz of bandwidth and can carry between 600kbps to one megabit-per-second of traffic. The firm also has plans to port the ESRW which is currently handled by the PNR-1000 (see above) into the MCTR-7200 family. This will provide simultaneous voice and data communications using 200KHz of channel bandwidth. The MCTR-7200 family includes the handheld MCTR-7200HH. Meanwhile, the MCTR-7200MP contains two 50 Watt channels and has the same waveform composition of the MCTR-7200HH and PNR-1000. However, a key difference is that the battery of the MCTR-7200HH can be removed to enable the transceiver to be installed on the MCTR-7200MP¨thus enabling a handheld radio to become a vehicular radio, and also to provide the L-band (one gigahertz to two gigahertz) communications which can be achieved by the MCTR-7200HH. Although not confirmed by the company, confidential sources have informed Armada that the Israeli Army is procuring the MCTR-7200 radio family.
While the radios described thus far cover the V/UHF band, High Frequency (HF: three megahertz to 30MHz) have not been neglected by Elbit’s E-Lynx family. HF communications are currently experiencing something of a renaissance as noted above. Aware of this renaissance, Elbit has added the HF-8000 radio to the E-Lynx family to offer users a long range HF capability. The firm told the author that this radio can carry voice and data communications at a rate of circa 20kbps, and added that the firm is working to develop wideband capability for the HF-8000 which could provide 24KHz of bandwidth potentially increasing data rates to between 120kbps and 140kbps. The firm added that it expects to commence serial production of the HF-8000 by the end of the year.
Looking towards Asia, Pakistan’s National Radio and Telecom Corporation (NRTC) updated Armada regarding the status of its SDR-96X family of V/UHF tactical radios that the company is providing to a number of domestic and international users. Three radios comprise the family: a multiband handheld transceiver, manpack multiband radio and a vehicular multiband transceiver. Each offer data rates of up to 64 kilobits-per-second and accommodate six waveforms, notably the Combat Net Radio (CNR), ACNR, WBNR (Wideband Networking Radio), NBNR (Narrowband Networking Radio), air-to-ground and ground-to-air waveforms, in addition to a waveform to allow users to communicate with public safety officials such as civilian first responders.
Deliveries to the Pakistan armed forces, which include the country’s navy, army, air force, marines and paramilitary forces are currently ongoing. NRTC was unable to provide precise figures regarding how many of these specific radios it was delivering, although it did disclose that deliveries had commenced in 2011, and are expected to conclude in 2020. Regarding export customers, these radios have been delivered to the Nigerian and Saudi Arabian armies, with deliveries commencing in the next two years to the Egyptian Army.
Joining their Israeli colleagues in tactical radio provision is Rafael Advanced Defence Systems. The company is continuing to develop its flagship BNET tactical radio family. Family members include the BNET-HH which is designed as a platoon leader’s radio, although it can serve lower echelons. This radio is currently finishing field trials which should be complete by the end of the year, with deliveries ready to commence in 2017. The BNET-AR is the airborne element which has been acquired by both the Brazilian and Colombian air forces. In Brazilian service, the BNET-AR will carry the air force’s proprietary Link-BR2 airborne data link. This radio will also be acquired by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) with deliveries commencing in 2017. The force is thought to currently use Rafael’s RAVNET-300 V/UHF airborne radios, and the RAVNET waveforms used by these legacy transceivers will be ported into the BNET-AR radios that the IAF will acquire. Other BNET family members include the BNET-V vehicular radio, with the Israeli Army understood to be receiving this radio as of 2016 for air-to-ground/ground-to-air communications.
In conversation with the author at this year’s Eurosatory exhibition, the firm revealed that it is working towards demonstrating to existing and potential customers the ability of a single BNET network to accommodate up to 400 members. The rationale behind this, the company disclosed, is to have a large brigade-sized network with gateways between the different users and echelons on that network, such as infantry, armour and aviation. This is to ensure that the same users have access to the same broadband capability offered by BNET regardless of the transceivers they are using. This can include transmit data rates of up to two megabits-per-second and ten megabits-per-second transmit for the BNET-HH and BNET-V/AR radios, and reception speeds of 100mbps and 500mbps for these respective radios. The firm told Armada that it currently has a network which can accommodate a battalion-sized deployment, with the brigade network capability discussed above expected to debut in 2017.
Finally, South African military communications specialists Reutech disclosed that the company will begin to deliver a new selection of tactical radios to all branches of the South African armed forces (army, air force and navy) during this year. The company declined to disclose the number of radios that it will deliver, but did mention that these will replace existing Reutech transceivers which have been in service with the South African armed forces for the past 25 years. The company added that it will supply HF and V/UHF transceivers, the latter being used for ground-to-air/air-to-ground communications. Although the nomenclature of these radios has not been disclosed, the firm adds that all of these radios will be offered in manpack, vehicular and fixed configurations. Regarding waveforms, the radios will support voice and data networking with communications security and electronic counter-countermeasure protection.