As the U.S. Army decides how many new radios to buy for its ground vehicles, Raytheon Co. wants the service to know that its existing system in Strykers already offers Internet-like connectivity.
The Waltham, Mass.-based company has given a decades-old battlefield communications network a digital makeover by upgrading the hardware and software that support roughly 20,000 radios in ground vehicles, from Humvee utility trucks to Stryker armored troop carriers to M1 Abrams tanks.
The latest version of the so-called Enhanced Position Location Reporting System increases connectivity to more than 2 megabits per second, up from what was once as little as 57 kilobits per second, company officials said. Now, troops can use a Toughbook laptop computer tethered to an AN/TSQ-158 radio to access the military's classified network to chat, pass intelligence or browse secure websites, they said.
"It's 40 times faster than it was," Timothy Strobel, an engineer at Raytheon, said in a telephone interview with Military.com. "When you're dealing with that kind of capability, you don't have to send packetized, fixed-formatted messages. You can send standard, Internet-style messaging."
The system, known in military parlance as EPLRS (pronounced "e-plars"), can also connect to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, to run newer force-tracking software programs such as the Tactical Ground Reporting System, or TIGR, and the Command Post of the Future, or CPOF, in addition to the older program Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below, or FBCB2.
Raytheon wants to dispel the notion that the system is only good for low-bandwidth applications, such as the latter.
"Lots of people had the impression that EPLRS could only be used for FBCB2," Strobel said. "We've been modernizing the software on an annual basis, even though the Army hasn't been taking advantage of the new capabilities."
All a soldier needs to unleash the faster connectivity is an Ethernet cord.
"It's like hooking up a laptop to a home network," Strobel said. "All that's required is an additional cable."
Earlier this year, Raytheon demonstrated the technology with an Army unit in Afghanistan. Now, the company is trying to highlight the system's potential while making the case that the service would be better off spending its limited funding for new radios on other brigades.
"The grassroots effort that we've been running is just to inform the user of the capability they already have in their vehicles," Patrick Gibson, who manages the EPLRS program at Raytheon, said during the interview. "There's a value proposition to be made and we're out there trying to make it."
Meanwhile, the Army is moving forward with plans to buy two-channel digital radios for combat vehicles despite the prospect of another round of automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, after Jan. 1.
The service in September awarded Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. a potential $140 million contract for at least 232 new radios as part of the Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio, or MNVR, program.