DoD Buzz

JTRS' season on the brink

Although the Army's official test results aren't yet back, manufacturer General Dynamics announced Wednesday that it's getting good reviews about its rifleman radio after the Army's big network test last month.

“We’re getting great feedback from soldiers who prefer the Rifleman radio, rather than lugging bulky wideband handheld radios that require extra batteries,” said Chris Brady, vice president of Assured Communications for General Dynamics C4 Systems, speaking in a company announcement. “With the Rifleman Radio, soldiers can connect their cell phone or computer and join the network—anywhere they fight.”

The Joint Tactical Radio System has had a rocky road from vision to execution, but its soldier-level radios, at least, cleared one of the last formal hurdles with November's official evaluation down at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in the hands of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. But the Army's carefully worded announcement about the test made clear that yes, it's finished, but did not give any hint about how well soldiers or the service thought the rifleman radios performed.

"The Army will evaluate those test results during the coming months, as it finalizes the makeup of its network Capability Set 13, which will begin fielding to up to eight brigade combat teams in fiscal year 2013," the service said.

Equipping each soldier with his own radio has the potential to change the game, something the Army has been pushing for all along with its high hopes for networking the force. The service's announcement made that clear with this description of how a commander had to learn to manage his troops in a new way when they all could communicate electronically:

"I use it for overall command and control because it builds a network that allows me to talk to my subordinate elements," said Capt. Ryan McNally, a company commander within 2/1 AD who evaluated the Rifleman Radio at Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 12.1. "It's the first time I've actually had radios down at the squad level. So my dismounted riflemen, they all have the radio as well. It allows them to talk to their team leaders when they're spread out, and also allows them to talk to the squad leader."

McNally said the ability to communicate with the radios instead of shouting or using hand-and-arm signals had altered his soldiers' tactical approach to their missions. "We have to factor in being able to talk to each other over a distance, rather than everybody being essentially co-located with a limited amount of space and distance between them," McNally said. "Now we can expand that space and distance. We can cover a larger area."

McNally's company used the radios in conjunction with handheld devices running Joint Battle Command-Platform software. JBC-P is the future version of the Army's friendly force tracking and messaging system, known as Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking, known as FBCB2/BFT, which also allows users to plot hazards and enemy locations on a digital map. Plugged into the Rifleman Radio, these devices provided mission command and situational awareness information down to soldiers at the tactical edge.

"They can get their grid (position) off of it, and they can see anybody else who has a Rifleman Radio," McNally said. "You can send messages, create routes, drop a chem light (to show a building has been cleared), and send reports."

That's the promise for soldiers, and here's the immediate past and future for this potentially ubiquitous gadget:
The Rifleman Radio is part of the JTRS Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit, or HMS, family of radios. In June the HMS program achieved Milestone C, authorizing the Army to procure a low-rate initial production lot of up to 6,250 Rifleman Radios and up to 100 Manpack Radios. NIE results will help inform further purchasing decisions for the equipment.
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