Air Force moves to replace AWACS radio system

The AWACS Communication and Network Upgrade program office here is conducting market research in an effort to replace the existing tactical radio system on E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.

Recently, the Hanscom-based team issued a request for information to assess potential commercial sources able to produce, install and modify components that will be compatible with the new multifunctional information distribution system/joint tactical radio system, known as MIDS/JTRS.

The current legacy tactical radio system on Block 40/45 AWACS will be replaced by the MIDS/JTRS to support Link 16 enhancements — some of which have been mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration by 2020.

The Link 16 Network is used by several Armed Services, and facilitates communication between other aircraft and ground forces. Beyond radio command and control communication, Link 16 allows for images and real-time video to pass among users.

In addition to federal regulations, diminishing manufacturing sources also drives the Air Force’s decision to update the AWACS communication system.

“The current radio is 20-30 years old, and finding replacement parts becomes increasingly more difficult as time goes on,” said Steven Clark, CNU program manager. “We have to replace the existing radio box, but we’ll also be modernizing the terminal and adding new capabilities.”

Some of the increased capabilities of the new unit include crypto modernization; frequency remapping; Concurrent Multi-Netting 4, or CMN4; concurrent contention reception; enhanced throughput and dynamic network management.

With CMN-4, for example, on-board battle managers will be able to monitor and receive messages on four different channels while transmitting through one dedicated line.

“The more information feeding into our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft simultaneously, the better,” Clark said. “Battle managers will have better situational awareness and access to a larger pool of information.”

As far as the installation itself, “It’s not as simple as removing one radio and replacing it with another,” Clark said. “Factors such as size, weight, power, connectivity and available products all have to be taken into consideration.”

While the CNU program is still in its infancy, it is gaining momentum quickly.

Program officials anticipate a request for proposal sometime during the second quarter of fiscal 2016, with a contract award goal in early fiscal 2017.

“We’re moving forward and taking the necessary steps to ensure a successful and expedited modernization to the AWACS radio system,” Clark said.

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