AMF JTRS: Eliminating the Tower of Babel

Towards A Web-Based Approach to Planning

01/26 /2011 – In December, Second Line of Defense sat down with Marty Jenkins of Lockheed Martin to discuss the Airborne and Maritime/Fixed Station Joint Tactical Radio System or AMF JTRS.  This is a significant program which can help re-shape interactive connectivity.

Mr. Jenkins joined Lockheed Martin after over 20 years of service as a Naval Officer. He currently serves as the Director, Defense Programs Strategic Development for the Integrated Systems and Global Solutions (IS&GS) Business Area. While in the Navy, Mr. Jenkins served as Executive Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, the principal naval advisor to the Secretary. In addition to coordinating the activities of the 700 person Navy Secretariat, he advised the Secretary on major programs and budgets including C4ISR, industrial base realignment and future shipbuilding programs.

This is the first of  a three-part interview.



(Credit:Credit: Lockheed Martin, 2011
 

SLD:  The program is called the joint tactical radio system.  But that’s really a misnomer; it suggests to people that they should be looking at this program as if it were simply replacing traditional radio sets.

Mr. Jenkins: That’s been part of the issue, I think, with the program; these are devices that build broadband IP infrastructure for the war fighter.  They’re not, strictly speaking, radios. They provide NSA certified secure, type I crypto IP infrastructure.  They’re also, by the way, radios in the two-to-two military bandwidth, so they have transceivers built in.

If you were to choose a better name, what would it be? It might be the joint network system. The program isn’t providing that end user device, that handheld or that desktop.  It’s providing the entire infrastructure that enables that.

SLD:  So we should be focusing on how JTRS is really a joint infrastructure.

Mr. Jenkins: Right.

SLD:  So in this age of cyber issues, a secure infrastructure would seem to be obviously, a very desirable thing to have.

Jenkins: Right.  With the flexibility that’s built into this infrastructure, it is the future.  Secure broadband IP network infrastructure for the war fighter. But it also maintains full legacy capability; it does the same network communications—voiceover UHF, VHF or HF, voice satellite data that we’re using today around the world. And a key part of this is the backward compatibility with the legacy systems – the fact that the system will take full advantage of the well-tested and proven IP route and retransmit.  What that means is information can move seamlessly from legacy to IP and back. If you’re on your iPhone and you hit send, you really don’t care how it gets to the person you’re sending it to.

SLD: The point you’re getting at is that you’re pushing the send button, if it’s going over a satellite or a UAV or an F-35, you’re agnostic about that.  You’re not agnostic about the message being delivered.

Mr. Jenkins: Exactly.  And it’s even more than that.  Your Blackberry or iPhone signal is going to go from fiber to a line of sight, to maybe a satellite, to maybe a cell tower. All those different media, and every time it does that, it will switch frequency a little bit to ride that medium path.  JTRS enables exactly that.  So when you push send on your button in the cockpit of a jet or the bridge of a ship, it’s going to go on an IP frequency, a UHF frequency, or an HF, and the devices will do that automatic translation.

When you push send on your button in the cockpit of a jet or the bridge of a ship, it’s going to go on an IP frequency, a UHF frequency, or an HF, and the devices will do that automatic translation.

It could start in a UHF frequency, jump to HF, VHF, whatever the best path — this is what IP does for us — IP infrastructure.  Whatever the best path is to move your message, whether it’s voice or data, chat, video to the end user, as quickly as the system will allow it to get there.  Best path quality of service.  Proven features of IP.

SLD:  Not only are we making the point that it’s not radio, but it’s an infrastructure.  It’s also a translation system in terms of moving the data through different protocols?

Mr. Jenkins: Right.

SLD:  It’s basically a way for the infrastructure to move data around, voice around.  And that would suggest that as Admiral Roughead has suggested, we’ve got to think about post-Afghan military deployments.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep investing in the way we’ve done business the last ten years, when we’re about to try to have a more flexible force structure, expeditionary. Clearly, what Afghanistan has demonstrated is that non-line of sight capabilities are very, very important.

Mr. Jenkins: Let’s talk about a couple of pieces of that.  Right now, and for decades, for all the right reasons, our network and communications infrastructure has been built around radios that deal in single frequencies and are dedicated to single purposes.  So in my radio room on a ship, I’ll have a UHF transceiver that is SATCOM transceiver.  That is all that it does. I’ll have a VHF transceiver that does bridge-to-bridge communications, voice.  Now, that’s all that radio does.

So what we’re moving to is with JTRS is the flexibility in a software defined device to do any of those functionalities on the same device, multichannel. And because it’s software defined, it has the ability to upload, download or shift frequencies almost at will.

What we’re moving to is with JTRS is the flexibility in a software defined device to do any of those functionalities on the same device, multichannel. And because it’s software defined, it has the ability to upload, download or shift frequencies almost at will.

These radios are in a small form factor and you can preload 23 different waveforms, a wave form being something like UHF SATCOM.  Think of your XM Radio.  XM is a wave form.  Your UHF/FM radio is another wave form. I can preload 23 of those onto this device, and pretty much shift at will, any time I want, to go to a different frequency, to talk to a legacy system or do that automatic translation if I’m dealing with another JTRS box.  So that agility is huge.

Right now, in the field, if I have a ship off the coast, and I have troops ashore, and the troops ashore require naval gunfire support, unless I’ve preplanned that, built that into the communications plan, I can’t support the mission, cannot do that easily.

If I’ve physically done the right crypto ashore, and mapped that to the ship, we’re talking days and weeks of preplanning.  Then, if I haven’t done that, then I can’t talk to those troops, at all, I can’t talk to them secure, I don’t have the right radios. If we are both JTRS enabled, I can communicate with them right now.

SLD:  We don’t have to preplan.  So we’ve got a lot of flexibility built into the infrastructure.

Mr. Jenkins: You have huge flexibility in operations and tremendous flexibility in planning.  Your communications plans now become real time with a sort of a web based approached to planning.

You have huge flexibility in operations and tremendous flexibility in planning.  Your communications plans now become real time with a sort of a web based approached to planning.

It’s what we do if we want to pull down different apps over the Internet.  Instead of building a fairly rigid plan, which requires us to go and physically interact with a radio to change the frequency on it, to shut it down, to go to another radio to get the right frequency.  To get a crypto load, upload that crypto, we’re talking a long time, if you can do that at all to communicate in the joint world.

These devices enable you to do that in real time.  And the metric right now is if I don’t have the wave form that you want to communicate on, the metric for the program is it takes me two to three minutes to download that over the air, software defined, a new wave form, download it on my device, bring it up and be in communications with it.

Video: Courtesy of Lockheed Martin, 2011

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