In September last year, the Commonwealth signed a contract with Boeing Defence Australia for the acquisition and sustainment of an Integrated Battlespace Telecommunications Network, which will provide secure wideband voice, data and video services over both wired and wireless infrastructure between Army’s deployed forces and headquarters.
Nigel Pittaway | Melbourne
Project Currawong, or more formally Land 2072 Phase 2B, is a $950 million program which will provide a digital strategic communications system to replace the existing BAE Systems Parakeet tactical satellite and trunk communications system acquired in the mid 1990s and now approaching life of type.
Currawong is the latest phase in a program to deliver a digital battlespace communications capability throughout Army.
The overarching JP2072 project is actually a multi-phase program of complex projects, which together have been described as the ‘Telstra of the battlespace’. Phases 1 and 2A have seen the roll-out of modern software defined radios to replace the earlier generation Pintail, Wagtail and Raven radios used in the tactical communications environment, and the two phases are now largely complete.
Around 19,000 VHF/UHF and another 4,000 HF radios have been delivered and both projects are now in the sustainment phase.
“The radios have been rolled out and are now in widespread use,” explained JP2072 program director Bob Hutchinson to ADM. “We have passed the tipping point and Army now trains on the new digital system, with conversion to the old analogue system if required.”
The opening of Boeing's new Currawong facility in Brisbane. Credit: Boeing
According to Hutchinson, the remaining risks in the tactical domain delivered by Phases 1 and 2A are around configuration management and control of not only hardware, but also software, firmware and waveforms associated with modern software defined radios.
“But we have a good system in place to manage and control configuration and we successfully tested it recently in Exercise Hamel,” he added. The two phases, together with Land 200 (Land 75/125) are retrospectively referred to as ‘Tranche 1’ and the next tactical phase of JP2072, together with Phase 4 of Land 75 (Battle Management System) is known as Land 200 Tranche 2.
The contract for Phase 2B was signed with Boeing on September 3 last year, which covers five years of acquisition valued at $665 million, and a performance-based sustainment contract.
It will provide a modular, scalable Integrated Battlespace Telecommunications Network; able to provide communications support for anything from a handful of users up to a large-scale deployment.
Initial Materiel Release (IMR) is forecast to occur in the third quarter of 2017 and will be followed by Initial Operational Capability later that year. Final Materiel Release will then follow, followed in turn by Final Operational Capability, due to be achieved in 2020.
IOC will provide a ‘vertical slice’ of the capability to Army, and the timeframe is factored around testing the system under operational conditions, including during Exercise Hamel 2018, which will then provide feedback for the second materiel release to follow.
“The capability has been designed in ‘bricks’ and the scalable architecture means you can take just which ‘bricks’ you need with you once you have designed your mission,” explained Phase 2B project director Darren Lysenko to ADM. “You don’t have to bring every ‘brick’ with you everywhere you go.”
Second Pass approval for Phase 2B had been delayed by affordability issues, and the subsequent need to ensure that the capabilities required by Army were prioritised in the funding envelope available.
However, because Boeing began work on the initial build, known as ‘Build 1’, during the offer definition phase, work was well advanced by the time the contract was eventually signed and IOC will not be affected by the delays to contract approval.
“In terms of the way the contract is being executed, using innovative Agile Sprint Methodology, Boeing already had a head start and almost had a working prototype by the time we signed the contract,” Lysenko said.
“And so we have continued that work under the new contract and we have a very focussed engagement model.”
An example of this agility is some parallel work Boeing has done with industry to develop their Tactical Services Router (TSR), a critical component which resides within the Network Access Module hardware. Rather than using Commercial Off The Shelf technology, Boeing has developed its own device which is packaged into a small form factor and does not require an external source of cooling.
“The TSR is performing well beyond specification and we are very impressed with it,” added Myra Sefton, Director General Communications in CASG. “Not just by the fact they delivered it, but by them having developed it through three or four iterations, each time improving on what it was capable of before.”
Phase 2B will also develop a state of the art Network Planning and Management System which will optimise planning and management and improve usability of the system.
Sefton believes that the NPMS is on-track to meet the forthcoming milestones and points to the relationship the project has with Defence’s Schedule Compliance Risk Assessment Methodology (SCRAM) team, which regularly compares Boeing’s software development metrics against their software database.
“It gives us confidence that Boeing’s development path is achievable and that they are within tolerance,” she told ADM. “We have just passed Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and we will hit Detailed Design Review before Christmas in line with the contract.”
The next project to gain traction under the JP2072 umbrella is Phase 3 which, together with the Elbit BMS delivered by Land 75 Phase 4, forms Land 200 Tranche 2. Presently in the final stages of solicitation, it will deliver a new suite of software-defined radios and a networking capability, while extending the Phase 2B NPMS.
“We have Chief of Army’s eye very firmly fixed upon us, because his desire is to create a modern, digital, networked force and we are a key enabler of this,” Hutchinson concluded. “There is a real convergence in technologies at this point in time – we have new (Land 400) vehicles which will have IP-based networks for internal data and communications within the vehicle and now we’re extending that into external communications networks – and everything has to work seamlessly.
“We are working with Army at the moment to determine the best step towards the next tranche. We will do the design for what will be implemented in the Land 400 vehicles, but Army is also thinking about what other vehicles they would like to put it in.”