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When thinking about modernizing tactical communications, modern armies have a choice to take their capabilities to a new level by utilizing the breakthrough capabilities realized by modern software-defined radios (SDR). Using multimode and multiband radio platforms, SDR radios support a wide range of advanced services that are scalable throughout their lifetime. But innovation isn't everything: system selection and implementation should be done with caution, based on the experiences of early adopters operating SDR systems since the mid-2000s. By adopting a proven deployment model and leveraging systems with the potential for growth, armed forces gain communications systems that are scalable and secure investments for the future.

The premier league

While SDR has become the technology of choice for military users, the cost, technical complexity, and network integration require deep expertise and experienced manufacturers to deploy the seamless and robust systems legacy users are used to. Acquiring such skills requires time and resources available only to the few companies that have established themselves in the early stages. Our study shows that only a few manufacturers are among the finalists in the European tactical communications programs, including General Dynamics, L3Harris and Elbit Systems. Others, including Thales, Rhode Schwartz and Leonardo, have secured significant SDR contracts in their home countries (France, Germany and Italy) but have not been able to maintain the same momentum abroad.

As early developers of military SDR technology, members of this "premier league" were supported by their national defense ministries and given access to army-wide networks to understand, develop and deploy large-scale networks. Other companies compete and try to win a share of SDR programs, but are often disqualified early on due to a lack of technological maturity, proven scalability, and operational experience.

Latecomers to the SDR market, including Aselsan and Bittium, have successfully marketed their systems to their national militaries and a few partner countries, tailoring their systems to the specific needs of their customers. The Israeli company Rafael is also trying to position itself as a provider of land-based SDR systems, but has not yet received any orders for such systems. As more and more European armies want to deploy such advanced tactical networks, the window is closing for companies wanting to deploy large-scale networks.

Market-changing technology

special forces

The flexibility and agility that modern SDR and its waveform technology allow is particularly attractive for special forces. The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is a loyal customer of such radios from various manufacturers as part of the Next Generation Tactical Communications (NTGC) program. L3Harris recently received SOCOM orders worth approximately €255 million for Falcon IV AN/PRC-167 manpack and AN/PRC-163 handheld radios.

Modern SDR handheld radios in connection with information processing and display systems are essential elements for special operations. Image: L3Harris

These radios simultaneously feature a broad portfolio of line-of-sight networking, SATCOM and robust waveforms on each of the two 30-2600MHz primary channels. Multiple robust waveforms for Mobile Ad Hoc Networks (MANET) enable the Hyper Enabled Operators to perform information and data analysis. These software-defined manpacks support rapid software updates to add more waveforms and new features. Other special forces have also swapped out their old radios for SDRs, and are using the capabilities and flexibility of the new systems to enable advanced voice, data and video communications between operators across distances, areas, command levels and nationalities.


In the US, the first tactical SDRs were used in dual-band handheld rifleman radios from L3Harris, General Dynamics, and Thales. They operate on the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) and are linked to C3 portable information devices called Nett Warrior. This combination allows soldiers to use a single radio to operate voice and data communications at the troop and company levels and to track the location of their own troops with a high level of security. SDR technology enabled the latest versions of the Manpack radios to utilize both the modern SRW and legacy SINCGARS waveforms, as well as Ultra High Frequency Satellite Communications (UHF SATCOM) and the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS). The latter use satellites, which function like cell towers in space, and allow soldiers to connect to voice, data and network from almost anywhere on earth.

L3Harris' PRC-167 SDR communications device. Image: L3Harris

More waveforms are in the works. The US Army recently invited smaller companies to participate in the xTech Waveform Challenge to develop new waveform techniques.

Given the benefits of software-defined radios, future demand is expected to outstrip usable spectrum resources. In anticipation of this shortage, the Army is considering the introduction of Same Frequency Simultaneous Transmit and Receive (SF-STAR) software-defined radios (SDRs) that will be able to exchange voice and data simultaneously, even in congested ones , competitive and locked environments.

Great Britain

The UK is also changing its communications programs to take advantage of the technological and logistical advantages of SDR technology. One such program is the £3.2 billion LE TacCIS (Land Environment Tactical Communications and Information Systems) programme, the key segment of which - Morpheus - will transform the current C3 system. The program is currently in the Evolve-to-Open (EvO) phase, in which it will move from the previous manufacturer-centric procurement concept to a manufacturer-independent open information architecture, giving the Ministry of Defense (MOD) more flexibility in the future further development of the system. This will allow the Department of Defense to integrate new capabilities from different industries faster and more cost-effectively. As part of this architecture, prime contractor General Dynamics will implement a new architectural approach to evolve the Bowman (BCIP 5.6) tactical communications system into an open, modular system.

The LE TacCIS (Land Environment Tactical Communication and Information System) tactical communications and information system is being developed to upgrade and digitize the British Army's current network and C3 systems for the future battlefield. Image: British Army

However, there is no guarantee that the main contractor will be awarded the contract. Unlike the current BCIP model with a single key supplier, Morpheus and other elements of the LE TacCIS program will be tendered among various industries that have an incentive to deliver a more flexible, better performing and more valuable system.


Unlike Britain, France relies on Thales as its sole prime contractor for the development and deployment of the French Army's CONTACT program. This radio network system sets the new communications standard for the future French armed forces, providing a secure tactical internet in support of network-centric operations. According to Thales, the CONTACT radios are 100 times more powerful than conventional devices.

Thales' Synapse SDR radio is the system of choice for the French Army's Scorpion program. Photo: Thales

They provide the common radio network for the future armed forces and ensure coherent, secure broadband communication and interoperability. The systems automatically manage the use of radio spectrum based on the electromagnetic environment and the broader context of use, ensuring the best possible radio performance in terms of range and speed while minimizing the use of spectrum resources. Deliveries of the new radios to the Scorpion regiments began in 2018. To enable a smooth transition, the CONTACT radios also support the globally deployed PR4G F@stnet waveforms and other existing waveforms to ensure a smooth transition to software-defined radio .


Sweden was one of the European pioneers in introducing SDR and had started replacing some of the existing radios in 2005. At this early stage, choice was limited and risk high. To minimize risk, early adopters dedicated radios to specific applications to be used by personnel with the expertise and capacity to adopt the new technology. Thanks to the mature SDR technologies, they were able to combine different systems so that users could benefit from the rapid development. The Swedish Military Procurement Agency (FMV) was one of the European pioneers to use the FlexNet SDR radio developed by Thales in collaboration with Rockwell Collins. It was part of the Swedish Army's conversion to the new multi-channel tactical data radio system (TDRS). A key benefit of the system was its inherent connectivity with legacy Thales radios.

The Swedish Army was one of the first users of Elbit Systems' ELynX radio family. Photo: Elbit Systems

Durch die Umstellung auf die SDR-Technologie konnte die schwedische Beschaffungsbehörde flexibel auf neue Technologien reagieren und den Bedürfnissen der Nutzer Rechnung tragen. Diese Flexibilität ermöglichte es dem schwedischen Heer, einige Jahre nach der Einführung des TDRS ein neues, leistungsfähigeres Funkgerät auszuwählen. Dieses taktische Bodenfunksystem (Tactical Ground Radio System, TGRS) basierte auf einem anderen Kommunikationssystem namens E-Lynx, das von Elbit Systems entwickelt wurde. Obwohl die beiden Funkgeräte von unterschiedlichen Herstellern entwickelt wurden, konnten sie durch die gemeinsame Nutzung von Wellenformen eine unterbrechungsfreie Kommunikation mit anderen taktischen und Datenfunkgeräten gewährleisten. Das TGRS ermöglicht eine nahtlose drahtlose IP-Kommunikation zwischen mobilen Knotenpunkten innerhalb eines Bataillons, zwischen Bataillonen und mit dem bestehenden mobilen und schnell verlegbaren IP-Netz (MKN) mit primären Diensten einschließlich IP-basierter Datenkapazität zur Unterstützung des BMS-Datendienstes (Battle Management System) und mehrerer IP-basierter Sprachgruppen (basierend auf IP-Verkehr) innerhalb des Bataillons. Die Basisversion von E-Lynx verwendet Wellenformen, die zur Unterstützung taktischer Nutzer entwickelt und optimiert wurden. Das System wird mit erweiterten Ressourcen geliefert, um Vollduplex-Sprachkommunikation und Datendienste, effektive MANET-Fähigkeiten, die fortgeschrittene „Sensor-to-Shooter“-Wirkungsketten und integrale, in Echtzeit ablaufende Blue-Force-Verfolgung ermöglichen, sowie die fortschrittlichsten Dienste bereitzustellen, und es kann auf der Grundlage der Fähigkeiten seiner deutschen Tochtergesellschaft auch NATO-Wellenformen integrieren.


A similar trend can be observed in Germany, where several procurement programs are managed in parallel. This includes the strategic program Digitization of Land-Based Operations (D-LBO), which, once completed, will ensure full connectivity of the entire German Army. Two programs are currently running as part of the D-LBO, the procurement of new SDR-based soldier radios for the integrated soldier system IDZ-ES and SDR command radios for the PUMA infantry fighting vehicle. These two radios are essential capabilities in the German component of NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Taskforce (VJTF) as they provide the communications link between the infantry unit and its combat vehicles, as well as between company, battalion and higher command vehicles. By mid-2022, the Bundeswehr is expected to procure 1,852 additional UHF soldier radios as part of the D-LBO program. The procurement will extend over the period 2023 to 2025. As reported by, the Bundeswehr decided to purchase the PNR1000 devices.

The Elbit Systems PNR1000 SDR Soldier Radio is part of the ELynX family. Photo: Elbit Systems

Two different radio families support this capability. Because the two families operate on different waveforms optimized for each operating environment, communication between the two radios requires the use of common waveforms so that the two systems can exchange information and data when needed. The European waveform ESSOR aims to solve this problem. ESSOR is a high data rate waveform for secure radio communication between different command nodes. It can be processed interoperably with the SDR radios of the participating NATO countries. But ESSOR also limits the range of radios that can apply, as companies that are not part of the ESSOR community must partner with an ESSOR member (essentially their competitors) in order to participate in the program. This requirement is in fact a trade barrier for non-European companies.

As in Sweden, troops and combat vehicles will be equipped with E-Lynx radios, using the PNR1000 in its man-portable and vehicle-mounted configurations. At a higher level, 50 command vehicles will be equipped with a different radio system based on the Rohde & Schwarz Soveron D platform. This radio is referred to by the Bundeswehr as "SVFuA" - Joint Integrated Radio of the Army. It is currently unclear how SVFuA will fit into D-LBO as this radio was designed long before D-LBO. In the meantime, the Soverons have been outfitted with a waveform capable of communicating with the old Thales SEM radios.


SDR technology was also a factor in Finland's decision to modernize its armed forces' communications using indigenous means. By selecting Finnish company Bittium to develop, deploy and support the next-generation tactical networks, the company was able to complete development and integrate customer-defined waveforms into its TAC-WIN SDR radios.

The Tough SDR and ToughWin radios are designed for use in handhelds and vehicles. Photo: Bittium

In 2018, the company received the first order from the Finnish Army to deliver the new radios. This development also addressed the needs of other smaller armies. A few months after the Finnish order, the company secured two more orders to supply similar systems to the Austrian and Estonian armies. As the leading army using the system, Finland supports the development of waveforms. It has invested in the use of a narrowband waveform in the handheld SDR Tough and is now implementing the NATO-supported ESSOR waveform for high data rates (HDR-WF) in the TAC-Win radios.


In 2016, Switzerland started to replace the tactical communication networks (TK-A) and made an intensive selection of offers from more than a dozen providers. After five years of evaluation, only two competitors remained in the competition: Elbit Systems and Rohde & Schwarz. Both made it to the finals. In 2019, the Swiss Army selected Elbit Systems to equip the entire army with E-Lynx SDR radios.

The E-LynX SDR family for vehicles. Photo: Elbit

Elbit Systems' SDR technology enables the Swiss Armed Forces to "flatten" the network and use different channels and waveforms to connect commanders, users and functions. A unique feature is E-Lynx's Concurrent Flooding technique, which ensures continuity of communication even in the Swiss mountains. Because each E-Lynx radio supports four to seven simultaneous channels, users can operate a single radio on board vehicles while participating and collaborating on multiple communication channels at the same time. For example, the train would use the radio while dismounted and share a narrowband radio waveform with the train members. Another company-level E-Lynx radio uses the narrowband waveform to build the company's command network and uses the narrowband waveform on channels associated with each platoon commander. The same radio can also use the broadband waveform on another channel connected to the battalion network. In addition, voice and data can be transmitted seamlessly between all layers and users known in the network by using the common IP-based "dial-in" function.


Spain has recently launched the first phase of procurement for its Joint System for Radio Tactics (Sistema Conjunto de Radio Táctica – SCRT) to acquire new generation communications systems for the Armed Forces. In addition to the technical goals, SCRT pursued two main goals: maintaining national sovereignty in the Combat Radio Network and ensuring nationwide and coalition interoperability. The Spanish army has followed the German, Swedish and Swiss armies in choosing E-Lynx systems. Elbit Systems has partnered with Telefonica to deliver E-Lynx Software Defined Radio in handheld and vehicle configurations as part of the program. France and Spain will also rely on ESSOR for multinational communications between NATO command elements.


During our trip, we visited some of the world's leading military organizations, each with their own unique considerations when selecting communications systems for their armed forces. While SDR has become the technology of choice for military users, the cost, technical complexity, and network integration require significant expertise and experience from manufacturers to deploy seamless and robust systems that users have come to expect from legacy systems. Acquiring such skills requires time and resources available only to the few leading companies that have established themselves in the early stages. As the main developers of the SDR technology applications, they were given access to army-wide networks to understand, develop and deploy large-scale networks.

Nonetheless, the open architecture creates the conditions for a rapid and flexible introduction of new hardware and software-based capabilities that extend the networks with new functions and technologies to strengthen future armed forces. Latecomers and smaller entrants offering new solutions are likely to enter the market as second and third tier vendors and take advantage of the new open market by offering add-on devices, services, waveforms and encryption systems.

This article is based on market research by Lance & Shield Ltd.