Spawar to upgrade communications platform

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (Spawar) has placed a $9.8 million order for pre-production sets of the next generation of Multifunctional Information Distribution System terminals, moving military aviators one step closer toward having software-defined radios in their cockpits.

The current generation of MIDS terminals are a decade-old system called the Low Volume Terminal. MIDS-LVT is a single-channel communications platform on aircraft as well as ships and ground forces primarily dedicated to the Link 16 waveform, though it also supports the Tactical Air Navigation waveform through time-share technology. Link 16 is a frequency hopping ultra-high frequency waveform highly resistant to jamming ' it makes 77,000 hops per second through 51 discrete UHF frequencies ' used as a communication, navigation and identification system, otherwise known as 'situational awareness.'

Spawar's order, placed with California manufacturer ViaSat, will make available 18 flight-qualified MIDS-Joint Tactical Radio System pre-production terminals for aircraft testing and integration, said Jim Gosnell, ViaSat MIDS-JTRS director.

As the name indicates, the MIDS-JTRS system is compliant with the software communications architecture developed by the Joint Tactical Radio System, a joint military program for decoupling radio signal processing from hardware and making it a function of software. The goal behind JTRS is for a single tactical radio to process multiple waveforms, which is a catch-all term for how radios transmit the messages that go into one radio and come out from another. MIDS-JTRS will replace MIDS-LVT systems in Navy and Air Force aircraft and flight support organizations, said Steven A. Davis, JTRS joint program executive office spokesman.

MIDS-JTRS will have four channels ' one for current MIDS-LVT capabilities, as well as up to three additional waveforms in the spectrum between 2 megahertz and 2 gigahertz. Which waveforms will be added onto MIDS-JTRS systems 'will be driven by customer requirements.,' Davis said, adding that the system is designed to host all nine waveforms in current JTRS requirements documents. MIDS-JTRS will not entirely replace MIDS-LVT, Davis said, because some legacy platforms don't have the infrastructure for it. SPAWAR placed a $52 million order for more MIDS-LVT terminals in June. More than 5,000 terminals have been delivered or are on contract, Davis added.

Once in production, the cost of MIDS-JTRS systems will cost considerably less than the approximately $55,000 per terminal SPAWAR paid for the 18 pre-production terminals, said Jay Kaufman, ViaSat director of MIDS-LVT. The MIDS-JTRS program currently has two vendors cooperating on terminal development ' ViaSat and Data Link Systems, which is a joint venture between Bae Systems and Rockwell Collins. The effort started as a Navy effort to migrate MIDS-LVT to a JTRS-compliant system, 'and they added the capability of three extra channels,' said David Jacobs, ViaSat chief system engineer. The two companies will compete for orders once the program enters production.

MIDS-JTRS are meant to be easily swappable with MIDS-LVT units. On F/A-18-E/F aircraft, all that's required to replaced an old unit with a next generation one will be 'a minor modification to cable connectors carried out by operational level maintenance personnel,' SPAWAR's Davis said.

MIDS-JTRS is currently scheduled for a pre-production and development ('Milestone C') decision in March 2009 with terminals becoming available for customers approximately 12 months after receipt of orders.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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