THIS FEATURE ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2018 ISSUE OF ADBR
The ADF’s Project LAND 2072 Phase 2B Currawong Battlespace Communications System achieved Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in April.
The $950m Currawong program will provide a state-of-the-art digital strategic communications system to the ADF, replacing the 30-year old Parakeet system in service. IOC comes just four months after the project’s Initial Material Release (IMR). Under Release 1, the project has to date delivered the core communication network software and hardware, and 52 deployable communication nodes to the ADF.
Boeing Defence Australia (BDA) vice president and managing director Darren Edwards said with the declaration of IOC, the ADF now has the world’s most advanced battlespace communication system to transfer secure data, voice and video between Australian headquarters and deployed forces globally.
“The system improves the set-up time, capacity, flexibility, and responsiveness of the Australian Defence Force information exchange while reducing equipment size, weight and power during operations,” Mr Edwards said.
“The rapid implementation of the Australian-designed and manufactured communications network is testament to the high customer engagement during product development and the expertise of Boeing’s Australian team in delivering complex development systems.”
Officer Commanding 7th Combat Signal Regiment, LTCOL Les Juckel said IOC was achieved during the Exercise Carbon Diamond, the lead up to June’s Exercise HAMEL 2018. “The Integrated – Battlefield Telecommunications Network (I-BTN) was unquestionably superior to previous Defence networks in terms of ease of configuration, situational awareness for the operators, and network performance. Overall, the operation of the network was beyond the expectations of the operators and left them awaiting future material and software releases for further capabilities.”
Currawong was then extensively tested in the more expansive Exercise HAMEL which involved 8,500 troops from Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the US Marine Corps and the New Zealand Army.
Government gave second pass approval for LAND 2072 Phase 2B in June 2015, with then Minister for Defence Kevin Andrews stating the preferred solution was offered by a team consisting of Boeing Defence Australia, Varley Group and Harris, and would incorporate deployable computer networks sourced from Thales Australia.
“Approval of this project is a critical milestone in achieving a modern, networked Army,” Mr Andrews said in a June 26 2015 statement. “This equipment will enable deployed forces to operate more effectively, providing digital communications from theatre headquarters to the unit level.”
The requirement was for Army as well as elements of the RAAF and Navy to replace their ageing mobile communications and computer networks, and to provide improved situational awareness, command and control, and information sharing capabilities.
“Army signallers like to call their programs after native Australian birds, so Parakeet is the system we replaced with Currawong,” (former) BDA Director of Product Development, Lee Davis told ADBR in a recent briefing. “The contract was awarded in 2015 for $650 million for the acquisition, and we had about a six-year period of performance to deliver that, principally in two releases.
“Army had a need to field the capability very quickly, especially with the long history of LAND 2072 which has had some mis-starts,” Davis added. “So, whilst we’re really happy with our progress and the timeline we delivered for the end users, they had already been waiting for the system for some time. Because Army had a desire to field something very rapidly, the program was split up into two releases, one of an initial fielding, and then an upgrade.”
Previously dubbed Joint Project (JP)2072 Battlespace Communications System (Land) (BCS(L)), the requirement goes back to the early 2000s. The program emerged from a merger between two earlier efforts, the JP65 Phase 7B Parakeet Battlefield Communications Network upgrade, and the Project LAND 128 Currawong VHF Combat Net Radio replacement programs.
In describing the initial requirement, then director of the general communication systems branch at DMO, David Marshall noted that integration was the key issue.
“The current field communications capability of the ADF has been implemented from a number of separate programs over a number of years,” he said. “As such, the capability was not integrated and, by design, focused on transmission of voice communications.
“JP2072 seeks to address these two key areas of deficiency and has introduced an integrated system with a focus on all forms of communications, including data. The area of most concern is communications between mobile headquarters and forces at the lower tactical headquarters.”
A team of General Dynamics Canada, ADI Ltd (later Thales) and Tenix Defence (later BAE Systems) was down-selected to deliver BCSL in September 2005 and signed a contract in December 2005 for a solution based on the UK’s Bowman tactical communications system. General Dynamics had considerable experience on other battlefield communications programs, including the US Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Cluster 5.
“The General Dynamics Canada-led JP 2072 team delivers the best of two worlds for the Australian Defence Force,” president of General Dynamics Canada, John Watts said in a December 2005 statement. “It capitalises on the extensive experience of General Dynamics in deploying systems of similar scale and complexity, and takes full advantage of the capabilities of Australia’s largest defence companies, ADI and Tenix Defence.”
But in September 2007 the project was unexpectedly terminated by then Defence Minister Brendan Nelson due to technical difficulties with GDC’s solution and the reported inability of the DMO and an independent Systems Engineering Independent Review Team (SEIRT) to agree on remediation efforts to get it back on track.
The project was subsequently re-jigged to consider emergent technologies and new requirements, while some elements were spun off into the multi-phased LAND 200 digital radio and Battle Management System (BMS) project. Phase 1 of Project JP 2072 provided an interim capability upgrade, and this was awarded to a team comprising Elbit Systems, Harris and Raytheon Australia to provide a COTS communications system to fill priority gaps in the existing BCS(L).
For the larger and more permanent Phase 2B requirement, BDA’s solution was up against proposals from a teaming of Lockheed Martin Australia and Elbit, Raytheon Australia teamed with General Dynamics, and BAE Systems Australia partnered with Thales Australia.
For the re-booted LAND 2072 Phase 2B effort, BDA’s Release 1 was the initial development and was delivered just 27 months after contract signature. This is a remarkable feat considering more than 150,000 lines of code were written for the system, and that it runs on custom ruggedised hardware which was designed, manufactured, qualified and delivered in that period. This equipment is designed to function in environments ranging from -32 degrees to +70 degrees Celsius with no external airconditioning required.
“With many deployed comms systems, you’ll see the approach of traditional commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware in rack-mounted rugged enclosures,” said Davis. “For the end-users this generally means more space is required for airconditioning and fuel and commercial servers which don’t really operate well in a deployed tactical environment.
“The original intent for this program was to use COTS hardware, with software development to pull all those pieces together,” he said. “Through the bid process, and it was quite a long process – 2011 was when we put our first response in for this program, and 2015 was the signature.
“During this process we had some time to really look at the risk of the program, especially with that hardware piece. Size, weight and power is really important to the army from a deployment footprint, because it directly translates to number of vehicles required to deploy the system, number of vehicles available, and space in platforms to get those vehicles into location.
“There was a really strong focus on getting the smallest possible footprint for the key communication elements of the program, and then figuring out how those could be scaled,” Davis said. “Because of this we chose to go down the path of custom hardware, with a clean-sheet solution. I guess the flipside of that is that we now have developed a very capable product. We’re on the path now to start to explore opportunities, particularly in the export space for that product, which for local business is really good.”
While the initial cost of customised hardware may be higher than a COTS solution, Boeing says the long-term ownership and upgrade costs are cheaper. “If you look at a COTS model you’re procuring hardware from the US, and there are costs associated with ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) controlled equipment and servicing of that equipment,” Davis said.
“In the previous iteration, we were relying on the design using a US-based core computer which was ITAR controlled. Now, we have a customer IP core computer that’s locally designed, manufactured and sustained. It’s actually more competitive because, to get that device repaired, it’s a local supply chain from Brisbane to Logan, as opposed to a two to three-month cycle back through an ITAR encumbered process in the US.”
Davis says he thinks acquisition models are shifting back towards custom hardware solutions. “Traditionally custom hardware was seen as very technically challenging to deliver on schedule and, then from an overall sustainment perspective was expensive,” he said. “But I think that when you compare that against some of the challenges that you have with COTS equipment to meet the tough requirements, it suddenly becomes extremely competitive if you can develop it on time.
“Getting that out on time and having a good local supply chain in place to deal with that really makes it competitive,” he added. “And now that we’re looking at export opportunities, that local supply chain model will be involved in that which makes us even more competitive, especially when comparing Australia to the US and those type of exchanges where we’d be going into.”
Boeing also established a large systems laboratory in Brisbane which employs some 200 engineers and support staff to manage the system’s development, and the company started the design and integration work well before it was down-selected for and awarded the contract for the program.
“There was a lot of focus on burning the risk down, so the business invested heavily in making sure we were ready to execute on the program,” Davis said. “We did a lot of early, rapid prototyping work and then, through the agile development process, we are able to really lean into that hardware development.
“In a traditional system engineering process, you spend a lot of time working on the documents and requirements, and then halfway through the program you might start building some hardware,” he added. “We flipped that model on its head, and before we’d signed the contracts we had already built a prototype of the system.
“Even in the early phases of the system design, review and preliminary design reviews, we had prototype hardware that we were already evaluating and environmentally testing. We would take that through environmental test, test a little, learn a little, roll that into the design, and then go back again, test a little more, learn a little more, and roll that into the design.”
Exercising the system
During Exercise HAMEL, Army’s 7th Combat Signal Regiment, 1st Division and 145 Signal Squadron used Release 1 Currawong equipment to form seamless communication links from the forward command areas in Shoalwater Bay back to units situated in Rockhampton, and also via satellite back to the strategic network. This provided the backbone network to allow the management and exchange of data, voice and video to provide situational awareness and communication capability to the units fighting the battle.
LTCOL Les Juckel said he was happy with the performance of the system. “The equipment was used in a deployed tactical field setting across Shoalwater Bay,” he said in a release. “The system connected 17 nodes across the battlespace stretching from within Shoalwater Bay to Rockhampton. The HCLOS backbone achieved high-capacity bandwidth exceeding 20mbps and spanned distances totalling 112km over challenging terrain.
“The HCLOS also allowed the brigade to practice operation in a satellite-denied environment with no loss to capability,” he added. “Time division multiple access satellite terminals achieved bandwidth across the exercise area of over 30mbps.
“This order of magnitude in bandwidth increase allowed the live streaming of multiple real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) video streams as well as large file transfers, such as geospatial data, across the exercise area using the SATCOM and HCLOS. The network has significantly enhanced command and control of the combat brigade by facilitating large data transfer across the deployed network.”
Boeing has also received positive feedback about the system’s ability to continue to operate despite being degraded. “On exercise, they’ve had links that have been down and they haven’t actually realised because the system’s just been rerouting data through other available interfaces,” said Davis.
“It’s not until they’ve had time to go back and look at the logs or the after actions, that they go, ‘actually those interfaces weren’t up, but we didn’t need them because the system was able to work around that’.”
Davis describes the system as “self-healing” and “user-friendly” due to it using IPv6 technology, the most recent version of the internet protocol (IP) that will supersede the current IPv4 which is suffering from address exhaustion.
“Given that LAND 2072 Phase 2B is essentially the centre of the deployed network architecture, for any deployed force to get connectivity back into strategic, they need to go through Currawong,” said Davis. “So, the view was we would provide the IP as a pass through to Defence, therefore all of the aligned programs had the IP at the centre to be able to mitigate that.
“The ADF has other comms programs like JP2047, Telstra, EDLAN, and LAND 200 Tranche 2, and all of these associated programs that require the Currawong infrastructure to be successful,” he added. “We’ve been very successful at navigating those challenges and we’ve been able to deliver the core of that deployed network space ahead of schedule for the customer, which is really a great outcome for us, and is a great outcome for Army.”
The development of the Currawong system has positioned BDA well for a number of upcoming allied communications system replacement export opportunities, and there’s no doubt Government’s recent efforts to expand Australia’s defence export business will assist here.
In the US, the Army there is looking to upgrade its Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) program to address issues of obsolescence and capability shortfall, and BDA says it has already been “engaging in that space.”
In the UK, the Morpheus program seeks to deliver a next generation Tactical Communication and Information Systems (TacCIS) capability to address critical system obsolescence and introduce a more agile TacCIS solution.
In New Zealand, the Network Enabled Army (NEA) program is described as a “long-term transformational program that will introduce into service a deployable, networked Command, Control, Communications, Computers (C4), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability for the NZ Army’s Land Forces and Special Operations Forces.
To this end, NZ plans to acquire modern communications systems and computer technology to produce an integrated network of command posts, platforms, soldiers and sensors.
“Singapore has an upcoming communications upgrade program as well,” Davis said. “So from our perspective, we’ve got a cutting edge product at the time when the international market’s looking in the upgrade space, so we’re very excited about the opportunities.”
The UK angle is particularly intriguing given that nation’s reported interest in other Australian defence exports such as Boeing’s E-7A Wedgetail and the Thales Bushmaster PMV, Australia’s recent decision to acquire nine BAE Systems Hunter class frigates, and reports that both countries are looking to fast-track a free trade agreement as the UK’s ‘Brexit’ deadline looms.
Since achieving IOC, the project has achieved another key milestone. BDA Project Currawong Director Ian Vett said that on 17 July, the Commonwealth approved preliminary level design for Currawong Release 2, three months ahead of the contract schedule, allowing Boeing to proceed into detailed design for Release 2.
“Release 2 includes additional communications links, on-the-move satellite nodes, vehicle-mounted solutions, and integration of the system with other ADF security domains,” said Vett. “These capabilities will provide the ADF with additional functionality to enable enhanced multi-security bearer and networking services, control and management capabilities, and will allow faster deployment, automated set-up and fault tolerance in a rugged low size and weight.”
Vett added that some of the new features of Release 2 will be ‘troposcatter’ communications to provide high capacity beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) datalinks, a ‘headquarters on the move’ wideband global SATCOM connectivity to the commander’s Bushmaster PMV, trailer-mounted wideband global SATCOM terminals, vehicle-mounted terminals for high-density computing and routing, and an external network access point to allow secure connections through public networks.
The detailed design review of Release 2 is scheduled for completion in 2019, after which the program will undergo a test readiness review, final testing, and final material release (FMR).