Written by Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO)
MIT 2010 Volume: 14 Issue: 8 (September)
Functionality and Lessons Learned to the Rest of the JTRS Programs.
Editor’s Note: This interview with Captain Scott Krambeck, program manager for the Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS), is another in a regular series of updates on the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), as provided by the program’s Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO).
Please provide an overview on the specific hardware/software/waveforms and other systems associated with the program.
MIDS JTRS is a four-channel software defined radio (SDR) that is JTRS Software Communication Architecture (SCA) compliant. Channel one is Link-16, with three additional channels available for growth, and these channels can host any JTRS SCA Waveform. Each of the growth channels was qualified during MIDS JTRS development, and specifically, the program qualified the SINCGARS waveform with a 2-2000 Khz transceiver.
In addition, MIDS JTRS hosts the TACAN waveform, possesses an internal power supply, a COMSEC security system, four-channel input/output, a remote power supply, chassis/ harness, multiple processors and software, of which the major portions are the Link-16 software and the operational environment software. MIDS JTRS can push data outside of the terminal either via 1553 or Ethernet busses. While the current MIDS JTRS core terminal operates the Link-16 waveform, MIDS JTRS has a JROC-validated requirement for a joint airborne networking-tactical edge (JAN-TE) waveform. The JAN-TE waveform solution is currently under study within the Department of Defense, and we should receive the outcome of this study this fall.
What is the status of the program today, and what role are the original partner nations playing at this point?
MIDS JTRS is currently in initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) with the VX-9 squadron in China Lake, Calif. IOT&E began in early July, and we expect to complete tests soon. The last year has been very busy for MIDS JTRS, as we completed security verification testing in May 2009 and also completed both contractor and government first article qualification testing in December 2009. Also in December 2009, a successful Defense Acquisition Board was conducted and MIDS JTRS received approval from Secretary Carter for a limited production of 41 MIDS JTRS terminals that will be delivered to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the E-8 JSTARS. MIDS JTRS went into production in January 2010 and received NSA Certification in March. F/A- 18E/F developmental flight testing concluded in 2010, and prior to entering IOT&E, a successful operational test readiness review was conducted in 2010. So, in the past year, MIDS JTRS has been completing several major acquisition milestones that are firsts for the JTRS enterprise. MIDS JTRS is blazing the trail for all other JTRS products. In essence, MIDS JTRS is the lead sled dog on the JTRS Iditarod.
As far as the other MIDS partner nations— France, Italy, Germany and Spain—are concerned, they are involved and contributing. While MIDS JTRS is currently a U.S.-only program, the other MIDS partner nations contributed funding for MIDS JTRS in return for a technical data package of the MIDS JTRS terminal. In addition, we have been briefing the MIDS partner nations’ representatives routinely both within the MIDS International Program Office and at the MIDS Steering Committee meetings, which are held twice a year. As far as procurement of MIDS JTRS for the MIDS partner nations, discussions are currently being conducted on this topic.
What would you say are the key technical challenges associated with the program?
MIDS JTRS was faced with three key technical challenges.
First, MIDS JTRS took many hardware functions within MIDS-LVT and transformed them into software functions, then added three channels, and made this all this operate within the same form factor as MIDS-LVT. If a platform currently has MIDS-LVT, MIDS JTRS can replace it. MIDS-LVT and MIDS JTRS form factors are identical. The benefit of software functions is that upgrades and changes to MIDS JTRS can then be done with only software changes, which is significantly more affordable than hardware changes.
For example, we are currently upgrading the information assurance for both MIDSLVT and MIDS JTRS, and the MIDS JTRS cost of this upgrade is one-fifth the cost of the MIDS-LVT upgrade. So the first key technical challenge was transforming hardware functions into software functions, then adding three channels, and making this all operate within the same form factor as MIDS-LVT. A portion of this transformation also required a change to the Link-16 waveform such that we could get the Link-16 waveform to run on this new software defined radio.
The second technical challenge was obtaining NSA certification. A new NSA Uniform Information Security Criteria (UIC) was published in December 2005. The MIDS JTRS program was required to adjust to this new UIC requirement, which drove much of the MIDS JTRS design and required us to expand our documentation and our testing procedures. The result was that much more exhaustive testing was needed in order to obtain certification. Make no doubt about it, the security bar for SDRs is very high. SDRs are relatively new to NSA, and appropriately, we needed to design MIDS JTRS to be in compliance with the new UIC and conduct the proper testing in order to gain NSA confidence and eventually obtain certification.
The third technical challenge was classic terminal integration into the airborne platforms. Today’s aircraft are very sophisticated, and most have some type of mission computers onboard that control many aircraft functions and present information to the aircrew in the cockpit. Integrating any new capability into aircraft mission computers, conducting lab, ground and flight tests, is simply not trivial. It takes time and effort to execute the integration properly and working out all of the bugs. So aircraft integration was a key challenge for MIDS JTRS, and will continue to be as more aircraft, ground and maritime platforms procure MIDS JTRS in the future.
What are some of the lessons learned so far during the test flights?
In order to accelerate the schedule, MIDS JTRS was able to execute, in parallel, the terminal qualification and flight test in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This is significant, as normally a terminal goes through qualification, and then after qualification, platform integration begins. MIDS JTRS was able to execute both of these phases at the same time. It was a challenge, but this actually benefited us greatly, as we were able to get MIDS JTRS flying very early on the Super Hornet. During initial flight tests we were able to identify difficult issues early in the integration, get our crack experts on those issues and solve them.
Many times in integration, the “low hanging” or easy issues are tackled first, because the fix is fairly simple, leaving the more difficult issues for later. In MIDS JTRS, we attacked the difficult issues early, and this approach paid off in the later phases of qualification and testing. We tackled the difficult integration issues early. Another lesson we learned was to work both the NSA certification process early, as well as the technical readiness assessment. By the time we finished qualification and entry into production, the MIDS JTRS product was solid. One final lesson learned was developing our logistics and training plans early. These plans were scrubbed constantly through development, and this effort paid off as well. For entry into IOT&E, the logistics elements were in place and stable, and high quality aircrew and maintenance training was conducted, which greatly eased the path into operational test.
Please discuss the coordination between JTRS programs, and how technologies and functionality for the other programs flow into MIDS JTRS.
There is tremendous coordination within the JTRS enterprise. From JTRS Cluster 1, MIDS JTRS reused the 2-2000 Khz transceiver technology, the data control bus and general purpose processors. Since MIDS JTRS is the lead sled dog in the JTRS enterprise, MIDS JTRS is also leading the flow of technologies, functionality and lessons learned to the rest of the JTRS programs. For example, the MIDS JTRS developed the JTRS SCA compliant Link-16 waveform, and this product was deposited into the JTRS Information Repository. This Link-16 waveform is being used by both the AMF Program as well as the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) program. This type of reuse is one of the pillars of the JTRS enterprise and not only standardizes the Link-16 waveform for SDRs, but also saves the taxpayer millions of dollars, as we only need to develop the waveform once. While there are still differences in architecture from one JTRS program to the next, the MIDS JTRS lessons learned through qualification, certification, developmental test, and now into operational test have all been shared with other JTRS programs. In that regard, I am already seeing efficiencies as other programs are successfully mitigating issues that MIDS JTRS had to first conquer and resolve. From the point of view of engineering or functionality, what do you think are the most valuable or interesting aspects of the program?
From an engineering or functionality aspect of the program, the most valuable and interesting aspect of the program has been transforming functionality from hardware into software, observing the terminal meet the requirements, including the NSA requirements, and just observing the MIDS JTRS terminal perform. A tremendous amount of work was done early in the program making sure that the requirements were well understood and that the specifications and architecture were properly documented and designed. As a result of this fine work done early in the program, transforming functions from hardware to software was attainable. MIDS JTRS works.
Outside of engineering or functionality, specifically, the most valuable and interesting aspect of the entire MIDS program is the breadth of the program. I am blessed to be leading a five-nation international program with two U.S. vendors (Data Link Solutions and ViaSat) and one European vendor (Euro- MIDS) that have produced over 6,000 MIDSLVT terminals in the last 10 years for our joint and coalition warfighters. The MIDS program is about networking and information sharing, of which this capability is currently going through a quantum change, and part of that change is MIDS JTRS. With the experience of MID-LVT, the MIDS personnel involved, both in the government and industry, are the “pros from Dover” in networking, Link-16 and knowing what it takes to succeed and get a product through design, qualification and testing and get a sustainable capability to the warfighter in an affordable manner. I’m in awe, every day, at the performance of the MIDS Team.
What is the near-term roadmap?
As mentioned, MIDS JTRS is currently in IOT&E with the VX-9 squadron. The Navy’s commander, operational test and evaluation force MIDS JTRS IOT&E report is expected in December, as well as the DoD’s director, operational test and evaluation MIDS JTRS report. MIDS JTRS initial operational capability in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is scheduled for January 2011. MIDS JTRS full production and fielding is currently scheduled for February 2011. In addition, MIDS JTRS terminals have also been delivered to E-8C JSTARS and RC-135 Rivet Joint for integration and testing, and we expect these platforms will be the next to field MIDS JTRS.
The current funded MIDS JTRS platforms are F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (Navy); E-8C JSTARS (Air Force); RC-135 Rivet Joint (Air Force); EC-130H Compass Call (Air Force); and EC-130E Senior Scout (Air Force). The MIDS JTRS key performance parameters being tested in IOT&E are form/fit/ function replacement for MIDS-LVT (Link-16 and TACAN); functionality; net ready; and operational availability. ♦