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Home > UNS > 150303-01



Many systems, one network…many radios, one voice

by Flintlock Public Affairs Staff

N’DJAMENA, Chad (USASOC News Service, March 3, 2015) – Reliable communications in remote, austere environments are a vital, yet challenging aspect of Special Operations Forces (SOF) missions — especially those involving partner forces with dissimilar equipment.

During Flintlock 2015, combined multinational training exercises in five nations across Western Africa, SOF participants are sharing technology to bring nearly every type and model of communications gear together.

The high-tech solution was originally developed in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina as civilian first responders struggled to communicate while using radios from different manufacturers operating on different bandwidths.

Using off-the-shelf components, engineers in the United States have developed communications solutions to allow UHF, VHF (two commonly used radio spectrums) and even cellular telephones to talk to one another in a networked environment.

For the operator in the field, the system allows any device capable of receiving or sending transmissions to communicate with another; a cellphone, computer, hand-held radio or texting device.

“What we’re able to do is link equipment from units in the field to a cellular network, Internet connection or radio network,” explained the Warrant Officer 3 in charge of evaluating the equipment with SOF operators from Chad. “We’re redefining how far comms extend — and how fast leaders can communicate with operators on the front line.”

The problem of integrating dissimilar devices is more than just a communications trick — the technology will benefit partner nation forces in today’s counter-violent extremist organization operations.

“This technology will allow African nations working together in combined operations to bridge their tactical and long haul networks together,” the Chief Warrant Officer 3 said. “Not only will this solution bring internal communications together, but it will take comms a step further by expanding the ability to communicate in real time between forces from neighboring nations…regardless of what type of gear they’re using.”

Throughout the training the soldiers from African and European SOF units are gaining experience with the system through three different stages spread across multiple days: classroom-style instruction, hands-on experimentation and practical exercises punctuated with notional problem sets. Throughout these stages, operators have been peppering the communications team with ideas on how the equipment might be used to counter regional threats while strengthening multi-national forces.

The technology operates through a “hub-spoke” model. The system itself remains at a central location while the devices connected to it are able to operate away at various distances. The system is comprised of one lightweight, portable box designed to be durable enough for harsh environments such as the Saharan and sub-Saharan climates.

“If a soldier with a radio had to communicate with a soldier with a cell phone, this system would receive the transmission from the radio and send to the cell phone in the form of internet protocol packets,” explained the Chief Warrant Officer 3. “While none of the devices need an internet connection to communicate, it would expand the reach on a global scale.”

In addition to connecting different devices, this new technology has the ability to receive and send text messages and photos from cell phones. Live streaming video from a smartphone is even possible with a good mobile network connection.

“The one thing that really brings this kind of system to the front is its rudimentary tracking ability,” said the Chief Warrant Officer 3. “With the smartphone application, coordinates are sent from the phone to the system which plots the user's position on Google maps. Simply clicking on their icon will allow the system operator to talk directly that person.”

“With this sort of new technology, anyone anywhere can effectively be on the same radio net,” the Chief Warrant Officer 3 said. “Something this powerful has the ability to really help African partners communicate effectively with each other.”

Flintlock 2015 lasts through March 9. At the conclusion of the event, communications personnel will hold a post-exercise conference to evaluate the equipment with an eye to implementation in the near future.