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The AN/PRC-158: A Resilient Communications Bridge Between Air and Ground

Communication Systems
Apr 29, 2024 | 3 MINUTE Read

The United States is learning a multitude of lessons learned regarding a new era of combat while supporting allies and strategic partners in current conflicts abroad. These lessons will inform what capabilities are required during potential conflicts against peer adversaries in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as where potential enemies have peer technologies to attempt to counter American combat effects.

As such, U.S. military services, including the Army, are keying in on modernization requirements that extend troops’ ability to engage adversaries faster and from farther distances. Success requires command-and-control on-the-move and resilient multi-domain interoperability.

“Military assets distributed across the modern battlespace are moving faster and becoming more interconnected and interdependent as technology evolves,” said Chris Aebli, L3Harris president of Tactical Communications. “The ability for U.S. forces to communicate and coordinate in real time is crucial for success. Individuals, formations and platforms, regardless of where they are, need assurance that their comms are neither detected, intercepted, jammed nor otherwise disrupted.”

To address this, the U.S. Army recently selected the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS)-capable L3Harris Falcon® IV AN/PRC-158 Multichannel Manpack radio as the Air-to-Ground Network Radio (AGNR) for its CH-47 Chinooks. The Army will begin radio and Aviation Interface Backplane (AIB) mount installation on the helicopters next year, according to its fleet maintenance and upgrade schedule, and expects to complete fleet integration by 2028, according to David Minaschek, L3Harris Account Management lead.

Under AGNR, AN/PRC-158-equipped aircraft will be able to leverage all waveforms satisfying the Army’s Handheld, Manpack & Small Form Factor (HMS) requirements, further increasing the service’s air-to-ground interoperability, while simultaneously integrating voice and data communications, network routing and gateway functions. The AN/PRC-158’s software-defined flexible architecture and interoperability also lends to reduced integration costs for sister services for future Modification Work Order integration activities.

Deliveries of the AN/PRC-158 are part of the service’s HMS program, according to Minaschek.

L3Harris has supported the Army’s HMS program since its inception, providing both AN/PRC-158s and AN/PRC-163 Multichannel Handheld “Leader” radios, including delivery contracts awarded last year.


A Stronger Air-to-Ground Interoperability Foundation

The Army’s concerted effort to provide commonality between ground and aviation forces stemmed from a 2019 intraservice memo by then-Army acquisition executive Bruce Jette, who articulated the need for pilots and aircrews to use the same radios as troops on the ground, according to Minaschek.

The same year, speaking more broadly about interoperability requirements in an open missive entitled “Modernization through unity of effort,” Jette stated: “Getting the right equipment and systems to Soldiers at the right time is not only essential to supporting our force today, but will also be essential in supporting the future force. … To effectively modernize the Army over the next decade and a half, the enterprise needs to develop future concepts that drive our materiel requirements, with a supporting architecture that ensures interoperability.”

Since that time, according to Minaschek, the U.S. government has followed suit, focusing aviation community communications requirements to leverage solutions used for ground operations.

Falcon® IV AN/PRC-158 Multi-channel Manpack

For the Chinook fleet specifically, the AN/PRC-158 will replace the legacy L3Harris AN/ARC-201D Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS). Replacing the 20-plus-year-old radio will add an extra channel to the CH-47’s inventory, expanding PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency) planning as well as flexibility for future software upgrades as requirements emerge, according to Minaschek.

“We’re providing HMS capabilities that the ground forces have in the aviation platform with a software-defined radio,” he said. “The PRC-158 continues to deliver the performance and air-to-ground interoperability for the Army to operate and win in large-scale combat operations and multi-domain environments. It also sets the stage for Modular Open Systems Approaches interoperability with multiple interfaces.”

The Sky’s the Limit

The Army has selected three of six platform-specific AGNR solutions thus far in the program. The service will also choose the radio platforms for the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, AH-64 Apache and UH-60V Black Hawk.

The L3Harris AIB mounts have been purpose-built, incorporating inputs from the Army, to meet Size, Weight and Power requirements for each of these airframes; they support both AN/PRC-158 and AN/PRC-167 platform integration, Minaschek added.

“The L3Harris AN/PRC-158 will deliver interoperable, resilient comms between all platforms equipped with it,” Minaschek said. “Ground and air forces leveraging the manpack radio and L3Harris’ broad line of advanced waveforms have that high-assurance connectivity to get the job done quickly and stay protected during today’s high-intensity multi-domain combat.”