The U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan recently completed an Operational Assessment of the software-programmable Joint Tactical Radio Systems (JTRS) Rifleman Radio, highlighting its ability to share combat- relevant information, voice and data across small units in real time.

A JTRS Rifleman Radio undergoes field tests with a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan.

"We have just entered the era of the networked Soldier. The individual rifleman now has a game-changing capability," said Col. John Zavarelli, program manager, Joint Program Executive Office ( JPEO) JTRS, Handheld Manpack Small (HMS).

The Operational Assessment marked the first formal combat use of the single- channel, software-defined Rifleman Radio, which uses Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW), a high bandwidth waveform which draws upon a larger part of the available spectrum compared to legacy radios to share information and "network" forces. Rifleman Radio is part of a family of software- programmable JTRS radios, which make use of NSA-certified encryption to safeguard and transmit information; they are built to send IP packets of data, voice, video and images via multiple waveforms between static command centers, vehicles on-the-move and even dismounted individual Soldiers on patrol.

The Operational Assessment of Rifleman Radio is part of an overall acquisition strategy aimed at rapidly and effectively harnessing soldier feedback as a vital element of procurement and technology development efforts, said Brig. Gen. Michael Williamson, Joint Program Executive Officer, JTRS.

"This is a near perfect example of how early engagement by the Warfighter working closely with the PM and the acquisition community can deliver capability smarter and faster. There was a tremendous amount of work done by the Program Manager, the Rangers and the acquisition leadership within the DoD and the Army to achieve this milestone. You don't wake up one morning and put soldiers in 'harm’s way' without a clear understanding of the performance and reliability of the systems they carry. The Rangers spent a lot of time using the radios and clearly had a significant level of confidence in the system and the PM's ability to support the systems during this limited assessment period," Williamson explained.

Rangers liked the size, weight and power of the Rifleman Radio, which provided a battery life of up to ten hours and increased the units' ability to communicate despite obstacles such as buildings and nearby terrain. The elite Ranger unit, which outfitted several platoons with the Rifleman Radio while conducting various tactical missions in Afghanistan, indicated that the systems greatly assisted their unit's ability to exchange key information such as Position Location Information (PLI) faster, further and more efficiently across the force, Zavarelli said.

Rifleman Radio and SRW allowed the Ranger units to establish a mobile, ad-hoc network wherein squad leaders, commanders and dismounted infantry had the ability to quickly share and view mission essential information using small hand-held, end-user devices with display screens showing digital maps locating nearby friendly forces and surrounding terrain, Zavarelli explained.

"The Rangers felt the radio was very effective for conducting infantry operations, especially at the small unit level. They experienced an increased effectiveness at being able to drop in on arrive at an objective and conduct a highly specialized mission. Rifleman Radio allowed them to execute missions very rapidly because they had an improved awareness of where they were in relation to surrounding troops. Mission Command decisions were achieved faster," he added.

Using the software programmable Rifleman Radio and SRW, the Rangers were able to "network " voice, data, and information across deploying units in austere environments, without needing to rely upon a "fixed" infrastructure or Global Positioning Satellite, or GPS, systems to communicate across the unit while on-the-move.

"With the SRW networking waveform all you have to do is get to the next node. The waveform that we were using is critical to bending around corners. Instead of having to push through obstacles you just have to hop to the next node. They were in a situation where the networking function worked well for them," Zavarelli explained.

The success of this Rifleman Radio Operational Assessment, which included 125 radios, is expected to inform ongoing JPEO JTRS, Army and U.S. Special Operations Command considerations regarding planned future deployments of the radio. In fact, further development of the JTRS Rifleman Radio is being greatly assisted by feedback from Army Rangers who used the device in theater. Overall, incorporating feedback from the Rangers is consistent with the aims of the Army's ongoing bi-annual Network Integration Evaluations (NIE), 3,800-soldier strong evaluation exercises at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., geared toward identifying, integrating and assessing capability, systems and technologies for soldiers before they are sent to theater. Placing a premium on soldier feedback is a key element of the Army's "Agile Process" approach to acquisition, which seeks to expedite development and delivery of emerging technologies by evaluating them in tactically-relevant, combat-like scenarios such as the NIE.

Ultimately, the Army plans to broadly deploy the JTRS Rifleman Radio across the entire force.