A major component of the ADF’s largest battlespace communications overhaul in a generation is one third complete with introduction into service activity for Release 1 of Project JP2072 Phase 2B I-BTN (Integrated Battlefield Telecommunications Network) now taking place.
The milestone also marks the transition to Phase 3, which together with the Elbit Battlefield Management System (BMS) delivered under Project Land 75 Phase 4, forms Land 200 Tranche 2.
Boeing Defence Australia (BDA) signed the Phase 2B contract just over two years ago in September 2015, and Initial Materiel Release (IMR) for Release 1 of the program, also known as Project Currawong, will occur in February next year.
CASG Director Battlespace Communications Darren Lysenko told ADM Initial Operating Capability (IOC) will be declared before Exercise Hamel (scheduled for early July 2018), allowing Army and Air Force to prepare their equipment for certification activities at the field training exercise.
“Basically there are three units receiving capability under Materiel Release 1, and that’s 7th Combat Signals Regiment (7CSR), 1st Signals Regiment (1 Sig Regt), and finally No 1 Combat Communications Squadron (1CCS) RAAF,” Lysenko said.
Training of sigs at 7CSR commenced on 11 September at Enoggera Barracks, and the other two units are expected to have commenced training by November.
“We’ve had about 200 staff trained to date from an initial pool of 500 students with more courses to follow,” Lysenko said.
The Mission System Field Test was successfully completed on 15 September with key members from CASG (notably Lysenko, Director General Communications Systems Myra Sefton and First Assistant Secretary Ivan Zlabur), Army and Air Force in attendance during the test phase.
Boeing Project Currawong program director Lee Davis said formal testing is underway for the Mission and Support Systems and the First Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) developmental hardware items have now been delivered to Boeing and have completed formal acceptance testing.
“Software testing for the Boeing developed Release 1 product is now also complete and the first completed deliverable nodes have been assembled to support final system testing, training delivery and end-of-year customer deliveries.”
Lysenko said the milestones come 25 months into the full 65 months anticipated for the 2B program.
“The focus is shifting to the introduction into service activity for Release 1, transition of the capability into service aspects and also Release 2 design work.”
Release 1 is centred on the transit cases which house the core ‘brick’ of the integrated network known as the Network Access Module or NAM. Release 2 will have a vehicle-based focus.
"There will be a Headquarters On-The-Move (HQOTM) component as well as a capability Army and Air Force haven’t seen since 1985 – a tropospheric scatter system which essentially uses the ionosphere to communicate as a bearer,” Lysenko said. “We’re also getting an enhanced Network Planning and Management System (NPMS) which will incorporate the full range of bearers, HQOTM, and the functionality required for Release 2.”
CASG Communication Systems Director General Myra Sefton told ADM the NPMS (basically a user interface or mission management system) was one of the program components that had been well received by Army.
“It’s a simple graphic user interface, a very good planning and management tool for the new system,” Sefton said.
Lysenko explained the HQOTM capability will be based on the Bushmaster platform.
“We’re also going to be using some of the trailers from Land 121 Phase 3B upon which we will be integrating SATCOM systems. Broadly speaking, the platforms are known, the weight, space and power requirement issues are known, and some aspects of that design effort have already started.”
ADM understands 18 Army Bushmasters of the EW variant have been earmarked for integration of the Release 2 components, and the scope of the project does not cover integration of those capabilities into Air Force.
Sefton said the high level of end user engagement has been a particular hallmark of the program.
“It’s a great example of the agile sprint methodology employed on the program, which allowed Boeing to rapidly prototype, design, develop and then demonstrate technology to continually refine it through multiple iterations. Because of the close working relationship they had with us they were able to do that and still meet an aggressive schedule.”
A case in point was Boeing’s indigenous development of the Tactical Services Router (TSR), a rugged hardware computing platform hosting the IP networking, routing, video, voice and data services.
A local team of engineers and program staff exceeding 200 in number are working on the program, a number of which have been involved with developing the TSR, which is manufactured using lightweight aerospace aluminium alloys and featuring highly efficient passive cooling techniques for operations in ambient temperatures up to 70 degrees Celsius.
Lysenko said the TSR has potential as a platform to host a vast array of other applications and technologies.
“It holds a lot of promise for the future and I know that Boeing is investing to develop it further.”
As ADM went to print, a contract announcement between Commonwealth and Harris Communications Australia was imminent for JP2072 Phase 3 and/or Land 200 Tranche 3. Harris was named as the preferred tenderer in April 2016.
The company is a sub-contractor to Boeing for Phase 2B, providing key components such as the Harris RF-7800W High-Capacity Line-of-Sight (HCLOS) Radio. Harris managing director Australia Alan Callaghan said there were synergies between the objectives of 2B and those of Land 200.
“The Phase 3 piece was separate from the BMS piece to begin with but the Department has quite purposefully melded them closer together as part of a holistic approach – that’s why it has transitioned under the Land 200 Tranche 2 umbrella,” Harris exaplained to ADM.
Under the contract, Harris will provide an integrated tactical communications network for voice and data services to tactical forces over line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight applications. In a turnabout from Phase 2, Phase 3 will see Harris as the prime with Boeing acting as a subcontractor.
Callaghan explained the company’s pedigree with running large communication networks (such as that used by the US Federal Aviation Administration) had placed it in good stead to prime the next phase.
“We also have a very strong core of network engineers established in Brisbane, so it made sense. Boeing, which will sub-contract to ourselves in Phase 3, has developed the NPMS such that it can be transitioned into Phase 3 so there won’t be a cusp between the IBTN and the Tactical Communications Node (TCN).”
This article first appeared in the November 2017 edition of ADM.