Russ Wygal, Director, Joint Tactical Networking Center,

At the Defense Department's Joint Tactical Networking Center, Russ Wygal leads efforts to connect not just sailors to each other, but to soldiers, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and coalition partners. Connecting those forces via radio waveform may not be the first thing one thinks of in an era of smartphones, social media and joint tactical networks, but it's no less critical to getting the mission done.

Recently Wygal sat down with Senior Staff Writer Amber Corrin to talk about how the JTNC works, its new waveform repository and what's next for military waveforms.

Give us an overview — what is JTNC's role in the broader Defense Department and in military operations?

RUSS WYGAL: One of the keys to the Joint Tactical Networking Center is that we wear that purple hat. We support the Department of Defense. We support the services and their program offices. So, we're across-the-service kind of support: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine ... the whole gamut there. And, then while we're doing that, that purple hat allows us to help and support them but also be an honest broker with information if we see them potentially doing something that might not be as standardized — maybe using a waveform that's not from the repository. It's an observation that we make to them. We're not a program office. We are charted by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall … so we're implementing [Kendall's] guidance through that charter. But, we do that for the Department of Defense.

The other thing that we emphasize is our support to industry that is working on programs and projects either in support of a competition for a government contract or in support of a service or program office.

Since we've got that hat, that allows us to not be a program office. I can go and talk to, say, Harris in a different manner than I can with a program office that might be doing a competition. I can go and talk to the program offices conversely as well, because I'm more of a neutral party.

So the divisions that we have within the JTNC support that chartered mission that we have. It centers primarily around setting and recommending standards for approval across DoD and industry. We do waveform analysis, we do conformance and compliance evaluation, certifications, and then we have an export office that works supporting these services in [the Office of the Secretary of Defense], doing export, providing support for export type of activities. It might be a license request. We don't sign that request, but we provide input to it. They might ask a question like, "Is there any implication for critical information if we release it to Country A?" We could provide input to that, because of our knowledge and understanding of a particular waveform, like soldier radio waveform or wideband networking waveform, something like that. So, those are our four key divisions.

What is the waveform repository?

WYGAL: If we’d talked this time last year, it was just being brought online. The waveform information repository for the Department of Defense is up and running now. And vVendors and industry partners who are authorized can come and request access, and if they have the appropriate need and are authorized, they can go ahead and have access to any of the waveforms or other types of software artifacts that are in there. They can utilize those to help support that program office they’re working on.

Or, if they're independently pursuing a full and open competition, there's a method that they can just get the information for a product that they want to put into a competition. So, they don't have to always have an Army, Navy or Air Force sponsor. If they come in and say, "We want to compete for this radio competition," and there's [a request for proposals] on the street, we'll validate that that's the case. But, they're not kept from having access to the information. So there's a checks-and-balance system to make sure that everything is there.

One of the agreements that we have built into the system is if a vendor comes in and takes a version of the waveform out of the repository, they agree to return any enhancements or upgrades to the waveform to the library. So they get something of value in the waveform code, and then they return something of value to the JTNC for use across the DoD.

Setting waveform standards is obviously a huge part of the JTNC mission. Can you talk more about that?

WYGAL: Under the standards division, one of the things that we really promote there is the software communications architecture, or SCA. It's a reference architecture that industry partners and government offices use to implement and port waveforms onto radios. So it's kind of like an operating system, for lack of a better term.

The latest version that is being commonly used across all of the manufacturers is SCA Version 2.2.2. And, as you walk around today, you can look at some of the fliers and brochures and you'll have, and you'll see that on their list, SCA, implementing SCA Version 2.2.2. So we think that's been a really good success, because there's a group that that we work with … of government and industry partners that recommend the updates and changes to [the SCA]. It's not a unilateral decision, but it's a group of folks that put together and say, "We'd like to see an enhancement in the next version of the software communications architecture to increase its potential for battery life." They may implement that in the software communications architecture by making a change that reduces the [size, weight and power], or makes it run more efficiently on a radio so that it requires less power.

Those are the type of things that end up allowing the end user — the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine — to benefit. Because if you're out in the field and you're carrying a radio, you can have better battery life, you have to carry fewer batteries, or you get better battery life for longer periods of time, and you don't have to resupply as often.

Those are the kind of tangible benefits that we consider. When this is being done at an architecture and higher level, the focus is always on how will this affect the operator and how can this improve their ability to conduct the mission that they have. We always try and maintain that focus, even though we're working with program offices and industry. What's the end value to that operator, you know, that's going to ahead and utilize the radio?

How are the roles of waveforms evolving in tactical communications? And what are other applications?

WYGAL: I will tell you the difference from 10 years ago and 15 years ago as 10, 15 years ago, you had primarily voice communications, very small amounts of data, and really no PLI, or position location information reporting. There was a limited capability to send information. What we see now, I think, is enabling in the waveforms that are out there, because they're voice capable, they're data capable at different rates, depending on the type of waveform, the spectrum they're modulated in and the capability for it to send data, as well as that PLI and other things.

But, as an example, the [Mobile User Objective System] is a new waveform, and it has a capability to do what is referred to as point to net. They can actually go ahead and access a network from the radio, which to me is tactical computing, but they could really go and get into that network and say, "Download files from a computer to that radio," which never before was possible. And, they could do that themselves with the connection that's provided through the satellite system.

So, I think tactical computing, the waveform facilitates that through the system, and that connectivity that's provided to a network via the waveform is new and it's just a new function that was previously not available through a radio communications connection.