Multifunctional Communication on the Future Battlefield

by Captain Steven T. Wall

"Red 5, this is Red 6." The lieutenant powered up his computer display, and his commander's image came up.

"Red 6, this is Red 5."

"Red 5, take your platoon to establish a checkpoint along the highway at grid point GL34519283 not later than 2300, 18 June. Provide real-time intel video and SA [situational awareness] of forces withdrawing along route yellow."

On the screen next to the commander the digital map display popped open, showing Red 5's sector and the adjacent units in the area of operations. The electronic whiteboard showed the units with which he was to coordinate. Another list showed the intelligence requirements the commander had written down during the battalion order.

"Roger, Red 6."

"OPORDER and commo package sent, Red 5."

The file transfer protocol (FTP) icon came up, showing that the operations order, communications waveform software, and map files had been received. He clicked "Save," and moved the map and text icons into his new mission folder, and saved the communications files on his computer.

"Message received, Red 6."

"Good luck! Red 6 out."

These notional radio transmissions could occur in the not-too-distant future. Already, our Kosovo Peacekeeping Force (KFOR) units communicate with joint, multinational, and civil authorities. We send orders electronically, and we collaborate with joint and multinational forces. We sometimes tap civilian networks, and we have real-time video capability. So what's the problem? The problem is that we must use multiple radios to accomplish these tasks instead of one communications system.

Many of the systems used by today's forces, such as the Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, the near-term digital radio, mobile subscriber equipment, and satellite communication systems, are not capable of moving the large amounts of data the forces require. The solution will be the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), a family of wideband, digital radios that are interoperable, affordable, and scaleable, meaning they can be replaced with more powerful ones without necessitating the rewriting of any software. JTRS is capable of simultaneous voice, video, and data transmission. When fielded, it will give users the flexibility of using one multifunctional communication system rather than two, three, and sometimes even four types of radios.

The Basics

Here's how JTRS will work. Users will input data to JTRS via a system or laptop computer or through a video or voice device. JTRS will look at the type of information submitted and to whom it is being sent. If the information is being sent to a user in the same network as the sender, the radio will route the data directly to the receiver over the best waveform (frequency) possible. This means that the radio decides the type of frequency range to use. The radio makes this selection based on the available bandwidth, the frequency allocated to it, and the traffic load on that frequency. The same method applies to a message sent to a unit beyond the line of sight. The radio may select a satellite link or "hop" the message from one radio to another. This flexibility of frequency, transmission method, and routing function is what makes JTRS different from the tactical Internet and radio architecture we have today. It does away with single-function radios and gives users a more dynamic and robust system.

The future battlespace will require seamless, mobile, ad hoc networks to pass on survival and planning information and provide real-time and near-real-time voice, video, and data transmission. An infantry soldier, cavalry scout, or aviator who sees the enemy will be able to send a message to an artillery or other system control node. The message will be processed and evaluated as to the target type, quantity, and location and routed to the system most capable of destroying the target. The data then will be passed to an artillery unit attack helicopter or missile system. Because these data will be passed and processed electronically, the evaluation and communication time among participants will be reduced greatly. The seamless integration of the communication systems used will decrease the chance that an electronic message will be misrouted in the tactical Internet and increase the speed and quality of service. Tactical Internet standards require that a call for fire be delivered in less than 5 seconds and that a logistics system message of up to 95,000 bits (slightly less than the amount of information that fits on a 3.5-inch floppy disk) be passed in 10 minutes or less.

Army Operational Concept

JTRS will meet the Army's emerging needs for secure multiband and multimode digital radio. The JTRS family will be scaleable for use in all environmental domains, such as airborne, ground, mobile, handheld, fixed-station, maritime, civilian, and personal communication and will be based on a common communications system architecture. It will be an open-system architecture, interoperable with legacy communications systems, and capable of future technology insertion. This means that at first it might not replace all the radio systems we currently use, but it will interoperate with them.

The integration of JTRS will occur over several years, with command and control platforms likely to receive it first. The Army initially will field the JTRS in those battlefield functional areas that use multiple radios. Selected users needing multiple paths for voice and data information exchange will be served by a JTRS that is configurable and programmable to operate simultaneously on multiple bands and in multiple modes across multiple networks while automatically routing data within and among applicable networks. Desirable capabilities of the JTRS are—

Plug-and-play versatility.

Field-configurable modular hardware.

Field-programmable waveform software.

Embedded position location; automatic situational awareness feed to network.

Secure data network.

Three or more other networks or modes (voice, video, and data).

Automatic local and Internet routing.

Dynamic networking, addressing, and bandwidth allocation and power-consumption control.

Emulation of selected legacy radios.

On-the-move operations.

Open architecture design.

Compliance with joint tactical technical system and support of operational architectures.

Self and ad hoc organization and mobility within the infrastructure.

User Community

The JTRS Joint Program Office (JPO), staffed with representatives from all the services, is tasked with defining and developing the JTRS architecture. To accomplish that, JPO solicited the help of industry to define the JTRS baseline architecture. In October 1999, a contract was awarded to the Raytheon-led Modular Software-programmable Radio Consortium to develop the system architecture for JTRS. The consortium will develop the prototypes for the architecture and demonstrate its interoperability. A second consortium will use that same architecture to develop waveforms capable of emulating the legacy radios. The two then will swap waveforms and related technologies with each other, which will validate the compatibility and openness of the selected architecture.

The interoperability of JTRS with legacy systems currently in the Army's inventory will reduce fielding costs and help digitize the Army. According to the current Operational Requirements Document (ORD) for JTRS, the aviation community will receive JTRS radios in fiscal year 2002. Ground and manpack JTRS radios are scheduled to be available in fiscal year 2004.

The Army continues to focus on the needs of the user. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) schools took a hard look at the ORD and developed priority waveforms that helped guide the TRADOC System Manager for Tactical Radios (TSM-TR) in the development of the JTRS waveforms. The TSM-TR also is working as a part of the JTRS Network Integrated Product Team that is developing the network drivers, requirements, and related technical features of the JTRS network. The network will provide dynamic, wireless routing and links for all services.

The TSM-TR's goal is to use the technological capability of JTRS to give the joint warfighter the ability to communicate across many waveforms and domains to accomplish a variety of missions on the digital battlefield of the 21st century.

For more information, visit the JTRS JPO home page at or the TSM-TR home page at, or send an e-mail to or walls ALOG

Captain Steven T. Wall is the Assistant Army Training and Doctrine Command Systems Manager for Tactical Radios at Fort Gordon, Georgia. He has a bachelor's degree in law enforcement administration from Western Illinois University and a master's degree in administrative studies from the University of South Dakota. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic and Signal Officer Advanced Courses and the Materiel Acquisition Management Course.