Building a better radio

Marine captains offer ideas to speed development of JTRS

Some Marine captains have several ideas about how to use commercial wideband wireless network technology to speed development of the Defense Department's troubled Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).

Capts. Robert Guice and Ramon Munoz argued in their master's thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif., last year that long-range WiMax technology that hundreds of companies worldwide are developing could, with some modifications, meet all the broadband data-networking requirements of the multibillion-dollar JTRS program.

WiMax vendors said they could license their broadband radio software to DOD, allowing the military to take advantage of a technology that Intel

chief executive officer Craig Barrett predicted this January would be available in laptop computers for an added cost of $100 to $200.

Guice and Munoz said that in some cases, WiMax, also known as IEEE 802.16, can perform better for battlefield users than the planned JTRS Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW).

Guice and Munoz said WiMax can transmit in a ground environment up to 30 miles, while the WNW standard would cover only a 6.2-mile range. WiMax also provides data rates up to 120 megabits/sec vs. WNW's 5 megabits/sec.

An Army Communications Electronics Command spokesman confirmed that WNW has been a hurdle in developing the first cluster of JTRS for ground vehicles and helicopters under a Boeing contract.

Based on Guice and Munoz's analysis and field tests last summer, they added, "802.16, with several adaptations, should be capable of addressing all the identified requirements" of WNW.

WiMax vendors agree and wonder why DOD officials are struggling to develop JTRS when commercial products could meet their needs. Ron Murias,

manager of applied research and development at Wi-LAN, said company officials have already developed a WiMax wideband waveform that DOD could license and integrate into JTRS. Wi-LAN also has a Media Access Control available for licensing that can support multiple frequency bands and modulation types, Murias said.

Keith Doucet, vice president for marketing and product management at Redline Communications, said the company's WiMax radios can support communications beyond the line of sight, which is necessary for operations in hills or buildings that could block signals.

The JTRS WNW specifications do not specify support for communications beyond the line of sight. But Guice and Munoz said Marines view that capability as necessary to support forces operating in environments that could block signals.

Doucet said Redline, which supplied the gear Guice and Munoz used in field tests for their thesis, was interested in the DOD market

and would not discourage possible licensing discussions to incorporate the company's 802.16 waveforms and MAC into JTRS.

These vendor comments coincide with Guice and Munoz's conclusion that 802.16 "is a good point of departure for the future development of a [DOD] wideband networking standard."

DOD revamps JTRS program office

The Pentagon's top information technology official thinks the Defense Department has some good ideas to get the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) moving.

Linton Wells, DOD's chief information officer, said officials have restructured the JTRS program to include a new Joint Program Executive Office, which will help coordinate development of the four radio versions, called clusters, with the Joint Program Office. He said they should name the director of the new office later this month.

"This will pull it together," Wells said in an interview last week.

At a hearing the House Armed Services Committee's Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee conducted last week, Marine Corps Gen. Robert Shea, director of command, control, communications and computer systems for the Joint Staff, said DOD officials expect to complete an analysis of alternatives to JTRS by November.

Shea said the study will examine the program's strategy and cost, including whether clusters benefit radio development.

One of the questions the study will examine is "did we try to make the radio [do] too many things too fast," Shea said.

— Frank Tiboni

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