A consortium of 31 Australian companies have demonstrated an advanced secure radio communications system for the Army, displaying their technology to senior officers in Canberra on Wednesday.
From a blank sheet, C4 EDGE, led by Canberra company EOS, developed the networked radio system, delivering communications for the individual soldier up to battlegroup level, over the last 18 months.
Traditionally the Australian Defence Force acquires its tactical radios overseas from companies such as US firm L3 Harris.
In 2019 Army issued a challenge to industry to come up with a sovereign capability. Canberra company EOS responded, forming the C4 EDGE consortium in which Army invested $35 million to develop a proof of concept.
Funding was invested across the 31 SMEs in the development of some 1,000 different bits of technology.
EOS Defence Systems Australia chief executive officer Matt Jones said among the visitors to their display today was Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr and members of his senior advisory committee.
Jones said the objective had been to show Defence what Australian industry had to offer.
“We went from zero to system Technical Readiness Level 6 over 12 months, mid-COVID. We were only able to physically get everyone together in the last three weeks because of the borders,” he said.
“The capability we delivered was pretty extraordinary given the COVID situation.”
Technically, the C4 EDGE system is a tactical communication network (TCN) which sits below the battlefield communications network (BCN) linking the division, brigade and battalion – the Currawong system developed by Boeing.
“We are complementary and could be integrated. We are not competitors with Boeing in that sense,” Jones said.
The C4 EDGE capability links the individual soldier and vehicles up to battlefield command post.
For the proof-of-concept demonstration C4 EDGE placed a slice of capability into the field.
That comprised battlegroup command post, combat command team post, platoon and section vehicles and a brick of infantry with an integrated unmanned ground vehicle.
“It was a single network but the network consisted of satellite communications, HF beyond line-of-sight communications, line-of-sight UHF mesh radio, line of sight L-band mesh radio,” Jones added.
“The services offered over the network were voice, data and control of the uncrewed systems employed within the combat team. Rather than having specific radio networks dedicated to controlling UGV, we ran that control over the same network.”
Part of the system included the design and development of a new battle management system (BMS) called CASAM (command and situational awareness management) for combat team manoeuvre.
CASAM includes full weapon integration, allowing one sensor to hand off firing solutions to other effectors such as tanks or artillery, as well as blue force tracking.
Jones said this wasn’t intended to replace the Army’s BMS developed by Israeli company Elbit.
“Elbit’s product is extensive and designed to be employed from divisional headquarters down to the battlegroup. Our technology works for the soldier and the combat team up to battlegroup,” he said.
Significantly, the system demonstrated protection and encryption to secret level, previously a significant barrier to Australian companies. That was achieved through collaboration with agencies such as the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).
So where to now?
“We have given Army some options about how we can take this from proof of concept to product and we think that requires an investment of money and time in the order of a couple of years,” Jones told ADM.
“The approach that we would suggest going forward is a risk mitigation activity which can inform their future requirement for future major acquisition and at the same time take the proof of concept we have developed and successfully demonstrated and turn that into a product.”