Army accelerates radio deployment

The Army has speeded up delivery of high-tech aircrew survival radios to units operating in the European theater, following several modifications to address mechanical and design problems.

A spokeswoman for the Army Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom), Fort Monmouth, N.J., said the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania last month repaired 653 PRC-112 radios to fill requirements for Task Force Hawk Army aviation units slated for potential operation in Kosovo.

The radios were designed to allow soldiers to summon help and provide rescuers with location information. However, many troops are working without the radios because the systems were not sufficiently waterproofed and featured a poorly designed on/off switch.

In a related development, the Air Force said it has received a new prototype of the Combat Survivor Evader Locator radio, designed to replace the PRC-112. The CSEL, which includes a Global Positioning System satellite receiver to provide rescuers with precise positioning information, has been in the works for several years but has been delayed because of design problems.

The Army said the new prototype, manufactured by Boeing Co., fixes many of the problems outlined last year by the Defense Department's Office of Test and Evaluation (OT&E).

Cecom said it has fixed and modified 2,350 PRC-112 radios into the new PRC-112C configuration, with 1,450 currently fielded. Tobyhanna continues to operate around the clock to upgrade all its radios.

The Army had such a critical shortage of the survival radios that last year the service issued a message saying that only the pilot in multiple-crew aircraft would receive a survival radio and that other crew members would need to rely on "foliage penetration flare kits and/or a signal mirror" to call for help.Cecom said the Army originally intended to buy 18,000 PRC-112 radios but then cut the purchase in half in anticipation of fielding the CSEL system, originally scheduled for deployment in 1998.

However, according to the Air Force Space and Missile Command, which is charged with CSEL acquisition and development, CSEL deployment last year was delayed until fiscal 2002 because of funding limitations and technical challenges.

The Space and Missile Command said many lessons that were learned in the DOD OT&E 1998 tests have been incorporated into the latest CSEL radio model.

"This version of the CSEL radio contains dramatic improvements over the previously tested version," said Lt. Col. Roger Robb, CSEL program manager at SMC's GPS Joint Program Office. "We are looking forward to field testing this fall to verify the new features of the handheld radio."

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