Taking lessons from Ukraine, British Army upgrades its radios

The UK is receiving new radios for its military, including AN/PRC-167 software defined radios. (L3Harris Technologies)

LONDON — The British Army has made its biggest delivery of a tactical radio in more than a decade as it seeks to improve the connectivity of dismounted units operating on the ground and incorporate lessons learned from the conflict into Ukraine.

On November 25, UK Ministry of Defence (MO) announced that he had chosen L3Harris Technologies to fulfill its Multi-Mode Radio (MMR) requirement, part of the Land Environment Tactical Communications and Information Systems (LE TacCIS) program.

The £90 million ($103 million) contract includes the supply of more than 1,300 handheld AN/PRC-163 and AN/PRC-167 handheld software-defined radios (SDRs) scheduled for delivery to the Army over the next few years. The SDRs will replace the L3Harris’ legacy AN/PRC-152 and AN/PRC-117G radios respectively, which have been in service with the British Army for over a decade.

According to L3Harris’ UK regional managing director, Ian Blower, the UK military will use both types of SDR to enable interoperability with international partners, as well as improve ground-to-air communications and tactical satellites.

To date, L3Harris has delivered several thousand Type 3 SDRs to the Ukrainian armed forces, which US defense sources told Breaking Defense have been a significant capability for ground forces as they continue to engage the Russian military in a highly contested operation environment. And those on-site lessons filter back to L3Harris.

“We learn lessons from this conflict. Users don’t want to be limited by a group of waveforms and the electronic threat,” Blower told Breaking Defense.

The British Army’s new SDRs will allow dismounted units to be able to operate multiple, undisclosed waveforms that can, if necessary, be updated remotely and beyond line of sight. Specialized waveforms can be used to reduce the detection and/or interception of communications by enemy forces, for example.

L3Harris confirmed that the MMR requirement is related to, but does not fall directly into, the Morpheus program for “Next Generation Defense Tactical Communications Information Systems”, which is part of the broader LE TacCIS effort and has been plagued by delays in recent years. But according to L3Harris Vice President and Managing Director Keith Norton, the choice of MMR on the AN/PRC-163/167 could have a significant effect on the type of “carriers” or SDRs selected for the Morpheus.

Morpheus was originally announced in 2016 as a next-generation replacement for the Bowman tactical voice and data communications solution, which remains in service today. A competition is expected to be held in 2023 to select a Morpheus “Delivery Partner”, which will then make a significant contribution to future carrier requirements in support of this particular program.

“This is the first, new and modern radio purchased by the British Army for some time. As the AN/PRC-163/167 enter service, the Army will have the opportunity to experiment with waveforms and consider different concepts of operation,” Norton emphasized, before suggesting that these latest SDRs would be “easily” integrated into Morpheus at a later date.

The L3Harris was selected by the Ministry of Defense ahead of Ultra Electronics/Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Thales/Collins Aerospace after extensive testing, defense sources told Breaking Defense.

The MMR is designed to support the British Army’s future expeditionary requirements, including early entry and small unit teams. According to L3Harris, the primary requirements fulfilled by the AN/PRC-163/167s include interoperability with allied nations, flexibility in communications, and increased resilience for forward-deployed forces.

Speaking to Breaking Defense at the company’s UK headquarters in Farnborough, Norton said both SDRs will allow “land forces to easily communicate and interact with NATO and US allies and provide a solution that can easily be tailored for any deployment’.

A written statement from the Ministry of Defense suggested that the new SDRs would be used by mounted and dismounted personnel and also said that “technical advances and upgrades will allow [163 and 167] radios to operate in a range of security classifications.

It should be noted that both the AN/PRC-163 and the AN/PRC-167 SDR are already in service with the US Department of Defense – Britain’s key military ally.

“It’s important to emphasize that these new radios are available today, ready,” Norton said, before adding, “The investment in these proven radios will contribute to faster deployment, faster decision-making and improved soldier safety. “

The MMR contract also includes additional options that would allow the British Army to add capabilities in the future if needed.

The 163 and 167 feature the integration of specialized “mission modules” that essentially turn a two-channel SDR into a three-channel radio. Current mission modules offered by L3Harris include ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and Iridium (Low Earth Orbit Satellite Communications) mission modules.

Initial deliveries of the AN/PRC-163/167 to the Army are expected before the end of the year with additional tranches planned over the next two years. SDRs are expected to be operationally deployed in the Army in 2023 and beyond.

Intended to be used in a dismounted role, the AN/PRC-163 and AN/PRC-167 are two-channel SDRs allowing simultaneous communications over alternate networks. Both SDRs can also operate with different waveforms, although L3Harris declined to confirm exactly which types are included in the Army contract.

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