It started as way to patch together radio communications for users “on-the-move;” but now Software Reprogrammable Payload (SRP) is also a way for troops and Command to share images and other data, even across remote areas, and engage in electronic warfare. Chris Huffine of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) leads SRP development and testing, and NRL plans to transition 100 SRPs to U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Aviation starting in 2016.
“SRP becomes a center hub—allowing voice communications, data communications—between aircraft, between ground forces, between possibly users on ships,” Huffine says. “It’s a key part of what the Marine Corps calls digital interoperability.”
SRP has evolved to include signals intelligence (SIGINT) and other capabilities in the radio frequency domain, such as jamming and other kinds of electronic attack. The next generation of SRPs, called Spiral 2, is planned to include Tactical Targeting Network Technology and Link-16. “Using the same hardware, just bringing up a different application,” says Mark Haffner, who also works on SRP.
Says Huffine, “You can talk to the aircraft, you can talk to the guys in the squad on the next hill [even when] there’s a mountain in between you, you can talk to your commander back at a forward operating base and say, ‘Permission to do this?’ You can talk to the intel guys, you can say, ‘Hey, we hear suspicious chatter going on.'”
USMC is going modular: from cargo ships that will swap in flight decks, to body armor with removable parts, to cell phones that Brigadier General Frank Kelley (Vice Commander, Naval Air Systems Command) has likened to building phones with Legos.
SRP, with independent software applications much like a smart phone, is part of this reimagining. “Processors and memory get faster every year, and you can plan to upgrade parts of your system and program it into the budget cycle,” says Huffine. “And then you’d be able to port over your old apps onto the new hardware.” Compared to the old way, reinstalling entirely new systems with all new software, “We can save a lot of time and money getting the capability to the field.”
Says Haffner, “We could add new capabilities to SRP based on their new capabilities in the field.” By being modular, SRP will evolve as the military increases its capability to control the electromagnetic spectrum and looks to include new devices, like smart phones and tablets.
The Marine Corps has already made SRP an assumed capability in their Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Electronic Warfare [PDF] concept. “It’s adding new capability they didn’t even have before, mainly because the size, weight, and power of putting all these capabilities individually on a platform would exceed [the aircraft’s payload] capability,” says Huffine, “or compete with people and other gear for space.”