Clear and concise exchange of information has always been vital to any successful military operation. Staying connected in the field can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Military forces often use advanced and proprietary communication technologies. Ensuring compatibility between systems from different countries can be challenging during joint operations or multinational missions.
In support of the Army’s priority “Engineering Support to Readiness,” U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) developed the Radio Interoperability Capability – Universal (RIC-U) voice bridge that allows direct communications between U.S. Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINGARS) and partner nations’ ground tactical radios.
About half the size of the shoe box and weighing approximately three pounds, the RIC-U comes with the heavy task of allowing secure, real-time radio communication between the U.S. Army and its coalition partners during multi-national operations. All while protecting access to the Army’s tactical network.
“The intent of using the RIC-U at Southern Vanguard 24 is to make a digital interoperability between the Brazilian radio encrypted network and the U.S. encrypted network,” said Maj. Aaron Spence, the U.S. Army South international technology integrator. “When you put this in use, whenever the U.S. speaks through their tactical radio, it’ll go through, and the Brazilians will be able to hear it.”
Spence added that the RIC-U works both ways. As long as both armies are connected to the device, they can hear each other. It is voice only, so no data is transferred.
By incorporating the RIC-U into voice networks, both partners can use their native radio communications equipment, unique encryption, and frequency-hopping techniques to speak with U.S. military personnel.
“We have the opportunity to see how the RIC-U equipment works with our radios,” said Brazilian Army Maj. Ramon Oliveira, an instructor at the Brazilian Army Centro de Instrução de Guerra na Selva (Jungle Warfare Training Center). “It is very important to our operation because it is the fastest communication situation for command and control.”
With the device incorporated into their voice communications network, soldiers will simply select the radio they are using and the radio they are trying to communicate with through the device's computerized user interface.
“We can teach most soldiers how to use it in under five minutes,” said Rex Johnson, an electrical at DEVCOM’s Control, Communications, Computer, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center, as he walked through the process. “Once it’s connected, , it autoconfigures everything for you. Once it’s configured, the soldier doesn’t have to do anything. Within 30 seconds, everyone can be talking.”
Johnson is a subject matter expert for the RIC-U. He is a developer of all the hardware and software that goes into the device.
“Our group within the C5ISR Center came up with the original concept, designed all the hardware to support this device and we coded all the software,” Johnson stated. “We subsequently patented all of this, including the language translation technology we are currently getting licensed out for manufacturing.”
A limitation to the RIC-U is the language barrier. To eliminate that limitation, the team is currently working on translation software. This particular software is being developed by the Army Research Lab and has been used by Special Forces and a few military other groups.
“They've essentially taken Google Translate and they said, ‘we need the similar capability, but without it hitting the internet for security reasons,’” explained Spence.
It is in beta form and is currently being used here at Southern Vanguard 24 to determine whether they can possibly overlay it on to the RIC-U. The team has a proof of concept they plan to utilize for a brief period during the exercise to show how the technology can go from one language to another. The hope is to demonstrate the capability of the technology.
“If we can do this, it’ll give you two things,” Spence said with optimism. “It’ll give you the tactical capability, specifically for non-NATO partners. It’ll also give you that language translation capability. We see both capabilities as a great advantage of the U.S. Army and our partner nations.”