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Joint and Coalition Tactical Networking: There’s an App for That!

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Proceedings, July 2012

Downloading application software from online stores created by companies such as Apple has radically transformed the market for goods and services around the world. Now, joint and Coalition tactical networking for U.S. service members is benefiting from a similar business model. The Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO) for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) is expanding competition, reducing costs, and increasing innovation in defense communications by sharing and reusing tactical networking waveform software applications that significantly improve warfighter capabilities.

Recognizing the crucial need for improved tactical interoperability, situational awareness, and informed decision-making, the Department of Defense (DOD) initiated the development and acquisition of JTRS networking capabilities at the beginning of the 21st century. In 2005 the JPEO was established to lead these efforts. To encourage competition and innovation, the JPEO created a new business model to acquire tactical networking capability. The JTRS Enterprise Business Model gives companies without government contracts access to tactical networking waveform software applications, allowing them to develop networking radio products that compete directly with those being developed under government contracts. The new approach is more agile than traditional defense systems acquisition and generates a greater variety of powerful, affordable networking solutions for joint and Coalition warfighters.

By sharing waveform software applications through its own app store, known as the JTRS information repository, JPEO/JTRS greatly expands the number of competitors in its radio hardware market. More competition lowers procurement costs and accelerates innovation.

Like the app-store model, the JTRS business model is fostered by common standards that JPEO/JTRS established with communications-industry partner participation. These standards ensure that shared applications will operate properly on suitably developed hardware and operating environment software. Another important factor is acquiring sufficient government purpose rights in the waveform development contract to allow the delivered software to be shared with radio hardware providers at the government’s discretion.

Reusing waveform software applications significantly improves radio interoperability and reduces the cost of entry into the tactical networking market. Radio developers no longer need to develop waveform software applications concurrently while producing radio hardware operating environments. This is a significant advance over older models, in which each radio provider developed redundant and often incompatible versions according to government specifications. Since companies using this model do not realize a return on their investment until integration is complete, they are also strongly motivated to deliver products efficiently.

The success of the business model already has expanded the scope of competition for integrating tactical networking capabilities into operational forces. The JTRS model permits broader non-developmental item procurement contests among all defense communications developers. A broader portfolio of tactical networking devices yields more features that complement military network modernization strategies.

Statutory, regulatory, and security certification requirements for communications systems present significant challenges. The traditional defense acquisition model assumes the serial progression of a single system from development and demonstration to procurement and fielding. The JTRS model commercially develops multiple tactical networking systems simultaneously apart from a traditional program of record. While this is desirable for acquiring wireless networking capabilities, statutory, regulatory, and certification requirements must still be met.

JPEO/JTRS has developed new approaches that better support the JTRS business-model objectives. Semiannual large-scale Army network integration evaluations are used to generate operational assessment opportunities for all tactical networking systems regardless of development approach. The National Security Agency (NSA) also supports JTRS solutions through its commercial communications security evaluation program. JPEO/JTRS eliminates another potential barrier by integrating commercial radio providers’ products into JTRS Enterprise Network Manager system development, ensuring common tactical network planning and monitoring regardless of the specific hardware solutions procured.

The Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) uses mobile ad hoc networking technology to deliver Internet protocol networking capability to warfighters and unattended sensors/vehicles on the battlefield. SRW capability is a key performance parameter requirement for JTRS airborne, ground vehicular, man-portable, and unattended vehicle/sensor radios.

Using a traditional acquisition approach, the number of SRW-capable networking radios would be limited only to government-funded programs of record. Making SRW available to commercial radio developers using the JTRS Enterprise Business Model has tripled the number of SRW implementations competing for procurement contracts at no additional cost to the government.

In March 2011 Major General James L. Huggins, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, commented that SRW

“. . . performed in a remarkable fashion, allowing soldiers within the platoon to exchange both voice and data information. This exchange allows junior leaders to more efficiently command and control their formations and provides a [common operating picture] to the fire team level. Providing both voice and data beyond line of sight communications to the fire-team level, [SRW] meets operational requirements and fills a gap where no capability currently exists.”

In July 2011, the NSA certified the first SRW-capable radio for secure deployed operations. This milestone was achieved by a commercial implementation that used the JTRS Enterprise Business Model to integrate SRW software without government funding.

In September 2011, JPEO/JTRS verified over-the-air interoperability of seven SRW radio implementations—three from programs of record and four from commercial developers. In November five were tested during a large-scale Army network integration evaluation.

In February 2012, U.S. Army Rangers completed an operational assessment of SRW while deployed to Afghanistan. Multiple Ranger special-operations platoons employed SRW under combat conditions for the first time during various tactical missions. Rangers indicated that SRW greatly improved their ability to network and exchange key information, such as location, more efficiently. They considered SRW to be very effective for conducting operations, especially at the small-unit level. “This is a near-perfect example of how early engagement by the warfighter working closely with the acquisition community can deliver capability smarter and faster,” said Brigadier General Michael Williamson, joint program executive officer for the JTRS.

These successes illustrate the value of adopting the app-store approach to sharing networking waveform software applications. The JTRS model demonstrated that it can increase the number of competitive, cost-effective, and interoperable tactical networking solutions that meet warfighter requirements.

JPEO/JTRS has also established a Joint Reference Implementation Laboratory (JRIL), which removes additional barriers to competition. JRIL facilities allow commercial developers to test and evaluate their tactical networking products against a government-owned reference implementation. JRIL engineers manage waveform software releases and test compliance to applicable standards. The JRIL also facilitates adoption of new technologies into joint and Coalition tactical networks by identifying and integrating additional relevant apps.

JRIL enhancements to the JTRS business model further advance the acquisition agility in the tactical networking arena. JPEO/JTRS will continue to use this successful approach to expand competition, stimulate innovation, and reduce costs while delivering interoperable connectivity to service members engaged in defeating adversaries and supporting Coalition partners around the world.