General Dynamics’ Decision Systems unit in Scottsdale is competing for contracts potentially worth more than $1 billion to produce small radios that could be embedded in the uniforms or body armor of future soldiers.
In addition to helping military personnel communicate with each another, the new radios could also control unmanned drones, function as remote ground sensors and help guide smart munitions and missiles, said General Dynamics spokeswoman Fran Jacques.
The company has built two prototypes of the Joint Tactical Radio System that were demonstrated for Pentagon officials in June, one functioning as a personal digital assistant and the other a small device for body armor, she said.
Each of the radios was smaller than 22 cubic inches and weighed less than two pounds.
The devices use technology known as softwaredefined radio that can connect with other radios that use differing frequencies and standards. The new radios are expected to improve interaction among military services, among coalition partners from different countries and between military and civilian public-safety agencies.
The technology also permits increased miniaturization, the company said.
"We’ve gone from racks of equipment to handheld devices to miniaturized, embeddable components," said Chris Brady, director of assured communications for Decision Systems. "Most small devices, like cell phones, run only one or two waveforms. By taking a fresh look at how our software radio technology can exploit the latest hardware, we’re showing that a single small device can perform the functions of many, while still being cost-effective and power-efficient."
One of the software-defined radios demonstrated by General Dynamics was a prototype personal digital assistant to be used by the military to communicate with public safety agencies. The system was developed in cooperation with Vanu, a designer of software radio systems.
Also demonstrated was a radio that can transmit and receive tactical, AM, FM and satellitecommunication waveforms. Designed to be part of the bodyworn electronics embedded in soldier gear, the radio eliminates the need to carry multiple communication devices to function with varied radio bands, according to the company.
Miniature software - defined radios also could be used in ground sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and intelligent munitions and missiles. Eventually the technology could be used for such missions as directing "smart" missiles to loiter or network together to create a coordinated swarm attack.
General Dynamics is heading an industry team that may have to compete against many of the top defense communications contractors to win the program. The Department of Defense is expected to release a request for proposals in late August and select the winning contractor in February.
General Dynamics has previous experience with software-defined radio, a technology that started in 1983 with the U.S. invasion of Grenada, when radios used by various branches of the armed forces couldn’t communicate with one another. The Navy is already using a Decision Systems digital modular radio, which is about the size of a TV set and weighs about 200 pounds. Those units replace a radio room in a submarine crammed with racks of radio equipment. A single unit can handle about 120 waveforms, which are graphic representations of electronic signals.