Thales & NATO to improve tactical radio interoperability

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In early October, Thales hosted 60 members of the NATO LoS Comms CaT team at its Gennevilliers facility in France for a working session on soldier radio interoperability between components of the NATO alliance.

The NATO Line of Sight Communications Capability Team (LoS Comms CaT) is a joint government/industry technical group responsible for standardising the waveforms used in soldier tactical radios, with around 100 participants from all NATO countries. For many years, LoS Comms CaT has defined and developed the waveform standards for NATO radio systems, with the objective of ensuring the highest degree of interoperability between member states. The STANAG 4372 (SATURN), STANAG 4246 (HAVE QUICK) and STANAG 4205 (fixed frequency, low and high speed) airborne radio standards are the result of work by the LoS Comms CaT team, which meets in plenary session twice a year. Thales has been a member since the very beginning.

The October session at Thales’s facility was organised on behalf of the French defence procurement agency (DGA). It took place over four days and was attended by 12 NATO nations (the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Turkey), plus two other nations invited as observers (Finland and Switzerland).

Continued progress in Air Ground Air

In the Air Ground Air (AGA) segment, the team’s historical area of focus, work included finalising Edition 4 of SATURN (STANAG 4372) for allied operations. In the next few years, this standard will replace the HAVE QUICK frequency-hopping communication standard that has been in service for several decades and is now outdated.

Further progress has also been made on the encryption of low-data-rate voice and data communications, with emerging consensus around STAC-IS as the next standard, after a long period of convergence. This new encryption mode will replace the current system (VINSON SAVILLE), which has been in service since the 1970s.

Meeting the needs of ground forces

Initially focused on airborne radio requirements, due to the major role of airborne units in coalition operations, the work of the LoS Comms CaT team has more recently extended to include the needs of ground forces. The agenda at the October session reflected this shift, with a significant emphasis topic such as the Narrowband Waveform (NBWF), which attracted keen interest from participants.

The challenge today is to develop the same kind of radio communication standards for ground forces as those that already exist in the airborne segment. This is a vital step towards providing fully secure communications on any scale between command units and combat units within a coalition.

The Test Tiger Team (TTT) tasked with evaluating Edition 1 of the NBWF reported on its progress (first successful offline interoperability exchange) and announced plans for a first “plugfest”, to be held in Norway in mid-November.

Because Edition 1 of the NBWF is a non-EPM waveform (i.e. it doesn’t use frequency hopping to protect against jamming), a fully operational Edition 2 will need to be developed. Keen to see rapid progress on this front, Thales will be fully involved in the work, with the support of the DGA. Following this announcement, and after the initial results were discussed, a dedicated work session on NBWF Edition 2 was scheduled for January 2018 at Thales’s Gennevilliers facility. Various nations have already confirmed their involvement in this approach, which now has the support of France. Against a backdrop of geopolitical tensions, the operational objective is to introduce this new waveform by 2020 at the latest in order to meet the interoperability requirements of NATO’s ground force components.

Also on the agenda was the Wide Band Wave Form (WBWF), with one of the presentations on this topic calling for the eventual adoption of the ESSOR HDR WF as a NATO standard to meet the WBWF requirement. Thales is closely involved in the ESSOR programme (European Secure Software Defined Radio), conducted jointly by Finland, France, Italy, Spain, Poland and Sweden since 2009, which has successfully leveraged the latest software radio technologies to offer a high-data-rate radio solution tailored to the requirements of ground forces, with the development of the ESSOR Architecture (a secure software-defined radio architecture) and the ESSOR HDR WF (high-data-rate waveform).

The Thales teams were closely involved in the organisation of this particularly lively and constructive plenary session of the LoS Comms CaT. All the main objectives were met, and participants came away with a real sense of achievement. It was an important opportunity for Thales to confirm France’s commitment to the development of Edition 2 of NBWF and evaluation of the new airborne waveforms. The next plenary session will be held in Gothenburg, Sweden, in March 2018.

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