Navy launches RFI for HYDRA follow-on

"The Navy has issued a request for information for an on-board commercial wireless communications system that industry values between $20 million and $100 million.

The Navy's Integrated Wirefree Communications System procurement is a follow-on to a smaller program the Hierarchical Yet Dynamically Reprogrammable Architecture (HYDRA). The new buy has been dubbed HYDRA 2. A request for proposals is scheduled for release Nov. 25 and an award is planned for March 31 1997.

In the original HYDRA program Ericsson Mobile Communications Lynchburg Va. installed computer-controlled trunked land mobile radio (LMR) systems on several aircraft carriers including the USS Eisenhower and the USS Constellation and amphibious ships. The systems which operate in the federal 406 MHz frequency range provide wire-free communications anywhere including below-deck.

The cost of the new system will depend upon the number of ships to be equipped with HYDRA 2 a figure that has yet to be identified said Jean Duncan contract manager for the East Coast Division of the Naval Command Control and Ocean Surveillance Center (NCCOSC). But industry sources said that if the service outfits its aircraft carriers and large-deck amphibious ships it would cost $20 million if the Navy rolls the system out to the entire fleet costs would climb to $100 million or more.

Ericsson intends to pursue the HYDRA 2 procurement and if the Navy decides to opt for a cellular solution Ericsson also could play said Steve Frackleton federal systems marketing manager for Ericsson. Industry sources said that another likely bidder is Lucent Technologies Inc. which in partnership with GTE Corp. is developing an Army battlefield personal communications system based upon commercial wireless technologies. Industry sources also said Motorola another LMR provider may bid but Motorola officials did not comment.

Warren Suss a Pennsylvania-based telecommunications analyst called HYDRA 2 "a great idea and a very smart application of commercial technology." But he added: "The way the Navy is going about this is very odd. They are trying to limit this to small businesses when they should be out looking for as many bidders as possible. They need a couple of strong suppliers to play off of each other."

Shipboard HYDRA installations are used by officers damage-control teams and security personnel to direct flight deck operations and to support crews. HYDRA allowed the Constellation's executive officer "to get more work done in one day than he had in the previous week.... Everyone he needed to talk to was at his fingertips " said Linda Pangelinan the NCCOSC representative who supervised the system's installation on the Constellation.

HYDRA "has resulted in better integration of various missions on-board ship has improved spectrum utilization and has reduced the number of radios used on-board ship " wrote David Smith a professor at George Washington University and Syed Shah an engineer with the Defense Information Systems Agency's Center for Systems Engineering in a paper on shipboard wireless communications presented last month at the Military Communications conference in McLean Va. Any shipboard radio system has to contend with powerful electromagnetic interference from other transmitters on-board such as the ship's radar. But the cellular system passed this test Smith and Shah wrote.

To communicate below-deck HYDRA uses what Frackleton called "leaky" coaxial cable which allows users below-deck to communicate throughout the ship. Sailors also can call anywhere in the world through an interface with satellite communications systems.

Though the Navy already has proven the utility of LMR in its original HYDRA program the HYDRA 2 RFI does not specify that service. Rather it seeks "a single wire-free technology or a variety of wire-free technologies."

The Navy and DISA are testing a commercial cellular system configured around a Panasonic wireless PBX system aboard the USS Saipan an amphibious helicopter carrier according to Smith and Shah. Besides providing shipboard communications this offers the capability to interface with commercial cellular networks when the Saipan is in range of those systems.

To provide adequate service to key areas of the Saipan - including the island structure flight deck engineering plant gallery deck hangar bay and well deck - the Navy/DISA team installed eight cell sites with a total of 31 base stations. Smith and Shah said data collected from the test shows a high level of usage and a "high level of user satisfaction with the system."

Because the cellular system uses commercial frequencies however it is limited to the area around Norfolk Va. where the Navy has an agreement with the local carrier and the high seas. Use of the Saipan system in foreign ports will require license agreements indicating that wireless systems in unlicensed bands may offer the Navy an easier alternative Smith and Shah said.

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