The STC two-channel radios will operate in the challenging environments and meet rigorous requirements for the Florida-based U.S. Special Forces Command.
MacDill Air Force Base is located in a quintessential Florida setting – swaying palm trees above, and manatees and dolphins swimming in the surrounding Tampa Bay. But one of its main commands is as global as it gets. U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, oversees special forces from all U.S. military branches deployed in some of the most dangerous places in the world.
Making sure these elite warfighters are connected during their missions is crucial to their success and safety. And that’s where Harris Corporation comes in.
The command has turned to Harris to provide vital communications capabilities through the Special Operations Forces Tactical Communications, or STC, program over the past few years.
The company – headquartered almost directly across the state from MacDill AFB in Melbourne, Florida – is providing handheld and manpack communications systems that will connect special forces when they most need it.
“Supplying these brave men and women with top-of-the-line communications is something that is very important to us at Harris,” Harris Communication Systems President Chris Young said. “The Special Forces have many unique needs because of the nature of their mission, and making sure they are successful is our top priority.”
SOCOM has awarded Harris two major communications contracts within the STC program. The first, for two-channel next-generation handheld radios, came in 2015. The second announcement came earlier this year and covers next-generation manpack radios, which have more power, performance, throughput and range than the handhelds.
The STC two-channel radios will operate in the harshest environments and meet rigorous requirements for small, lightweight, multiband, multifunction, multimission tactical radios. The radios can be upgraded easily and have built-in backward interoperability to communicate over legacy networks.
The radios will also enable special operations teams to communicate over multiple channels simultaneously with an integrated Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, and the ability to receive ISR full-motion video and signals-based threat information.
Operating in bandwidth-austere environments without a line-of-sight to base, today’s conventional Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) radios cannot cope with the enormous bandwidth required to transfer the high-resolution imagery and video that saturate the modern battlefield.
“The operational environment has become increasingly challenging for communication capabilities in general,” Deborah Woods, program executive officer for SOCOM for command, control, communications and computers told National Defense magazine. “Because of this we need to develop advanced, flexible, secure, cognizant and resistant communications for our systems operating in a disadvantaged combat environment and for the safety of our operators.”
The answer, SOCOM decided, was to procure a new family of highly-capable two-channel radios, which defines the STC program. The catch was that the command was facing budgetary limitations.
“Our budget is very, very constrained,” said Woods to National Defense. “And at least for my portfolio, we don’t have a lot of research, development, test and evaluation funding,” she said. “In fact, it is a … small percentage, usually on the order of less than 2 percent.”
To stretch its budget, SOCOM awarded the radio contracts, but the contractor would have to put forward a Non-Developmental Item (NDI) – product that relies on commercial technology.
NDI procurements require vendors to invest in research and development to develop systems that meet government requirements, while the government invests only in testing, evaluation and acquisition. By anticipating and driving requirements based on commercially-available capabilities, NDI solutions save the government money, while providing users with advanced capabilities more quickly.
Prototyping of the STC two-channel handheld radios is complete and Harris is on-track and Harris has delivered the first batch of Engineering Verification Model (EVM) radios for testing to SOCOM. The STC manpack radio is anticipated to follow a similar course.
“Answering the call for resilient and secure communications and providing our SOCOM partners a tactical advantage is what we do,” said Brendan O’Connell, president, Tactical Communications, Harris Communication Systems. “There’s a growing need for information on the battlefield and every day the Harris team works toward providing solutions to fulfill that need in a proven and effective way that will save our customers money, while providing users with advanced capabilities more quickly.”