Electronic Warfare and Avionics Program Office modernizing radios in aircraft to improve warfighter capabilities

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Public Affairs

The Electronic Warfare and Avionics Program Office in the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, is leading efforts to rapidly develop and field a replacement airborne high frequency radio in various aircraft to meet warfighter needs.

The office’s Rapid Prototyping and Fielding Program will modernize about 2,500 radios in aircraft including the Air Force’s HC-130J, KC-135, C-130H, C-130J, C-17, C-5, B-1, B-52, and E4-B, as well as the Navy’s E6-B, the Marine Corps’ KC-130J, and the Coast Guard’s C-130 and C-130J as part of a multi-year contract.

The competitive rapid prototyping effort ended last month with BAE Systems Inc. being selected as the vendor to complete the rapid fielding phase to produce and install 2,000 radios on aircraft across the Defense Department within the next five years. The remainder of the radios will be completed under a traditional federal acquisition regulation-based follow-on contract.

Capt. Jeremy Fazely, Airborne High Frequency Radio Modernization Program manager in the AFLCMC Electronic Warfare and Avionics Program Office, leads a 35-person multi-disciplined team to rapidly develop and field a replacement airborne high frequency radio to meet warfighter needs.  

“It all starts with the legacy airborne high frequency radio, the AN/ARC-190, which currently is onboard these operational aircraft,” he said. “The AN/ARC-190 is still functional, but isn’t capable of meeting today’s warfighter’s needs and is no longer in production. If the AHFRM program didn’t exist, the field would start to see degraded operational impacts as early as 2024.”

These factors created a compelling reason to field a replacement for the radio, which Fazely said his program has been approved as a Section 804 Middle Tier of Acquisitions – Rapid Fielding Program to accomplish.

To meet the program’s schedule, Fazely said his team will reuse some elements of the aircraft’s HF radio system and completely redesign and modernize other elements of the legacy system.

The AHFRM program manager said in order to field a replacement radio that can meet the warfighter’s needs, his team needed to completely rebuild the receiver transmitter, or radio element of this system, so that it’s a box that will fit in the same profile as the legacy radio, using existing aircraft connections and wiring.

“The new R/T is a software-defined radio with three expansion slots, making this new R/T easily upgradeable and agile to address future requirements, like adding new waveforms or changing the way the radio transmits voice or data,” he said.

Fazely said HF radios are nothing new.

“They’re a very robust means for long-haul communications without using satellite communications and are required for transoceanic flight,” he said. “This new radio will be able to give those aircrew an alternate, assured means of communicating should they lose satellite communications, or have to communicate in an area where the communication spectrum is contested by an adversary jamming or spoofing.”

AHFRM’s lead platform is the KC-135, Fazely said.

“We’ve been testing the prototypes almost monthly onboard either a KC-135 at various locations or in the C-5 System Integration Lab located at Robins,” he said. “We’ve brought in radio operators to these test efforts and combined that with our integrated working groups with the various aircraft system program offices. We’ve been successful in obtaining early and often human-to-machine interface feedback for the radio’s development.”

The mix of engineers, test managers, equipment specialists and program management support staff from Robins and other locations up the east coast have collaborated on the modernization project for several months.

“AFLCMC at Robins historically has been focused on modifications and sustainment,” Fazely said. “The AHFRM, however, is an acquisition effort which will eventually transition to sustainment at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.”

Fazely said because the acquisitions have typically occurred at other AFLCMC bases and later transitioned to AFLCMC at Robins, the program has a unique advantage to being both acquired and sustained at Robins.

AHFRM will be installing new radios on the lead platform, the KC-135, and begin developmental testing this year. This will put the team in operational flight test of a radio, development of a baseline integration guide, and low-rate production of assets for the various aircraft’s program offices to use for their integration and test efforts before each aircraft begins fielding the new radio across their fleet.

Fazely said the various aircraft system program offices will be responsible for coordinating the efforts to install these radios.

“Once the aircraft system program offices test and ensure the new radio’s functionality, maintenance units will begin receiving new radios and instructions for field-level installations via a time compliance technical order,” he said.

By 2027, 2,000 radios will be installed on aircraft, with the remaining 500 expected to be installed within the next couple years, Fazely said.

“The new radio will perform all the same functions of the legacy radio and also be forward and backward-compatible to ensure that as we field these new radios that operations are not interrupted,” Fazely said. “We’re really excited about the new enhanced and assured capabilities this radio will provide the warfighters. The Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy will all gain new secure, long-haul radio capabilities in order to enhance their operational effectiveness.”