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 technologies to facilitate this communication. But ensuring compatibility between systems from different countries can be challenging during joint operations or multinational missions.
In support of the U.S. Army’s priority of engineering support to readiness, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command developed the radio interoperability capability – universal, or RIC-U, voice bridge. The RIC-U allows direct communications between U.S. Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System and partner nations’ ground tactical radios.
About half the size of the shoe box and weighing approximately 3 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 Major Aaron Spence, 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.”
Maj. 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 Major Ramon Oliveira, an instructor at the Brazilian Army 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.
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 U.S. 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 Maj. Spence.
It is in beta form and is currently being used 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,” Maj. 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.”