Magazine article National Defense

Sticker Shock Felt as New Radios Are Acquired

Magazine article National Defense

Sticker Shock Felt as New Radios Are Acquired

Article excerpt

Despite suffering from sticker shock, the military services are proceeding with plans to install a new generation of software-based tactical radios that will be common across all weapon systems.

The joint tactical radio system, known as JTRS, is the linchpin of the Pentagon's plan to field forces that operate compatible communications technologies. But facing an estimated $40 billion price tag to replace every radio with JTRS, the services have sought ways to upgrade their weapon systems with JTRS-compatible technology, without necessarily developing a whole new box.

The cost of equipping military jets and command-and-control aircraft with new radios is particularly worrisome to the services, because the retrofit and integration work often can reach five times the price of the actual radio.

A case in point is the Navy's MIDS (multifunction information distribution system) radios, equipped with the Link 16 data link. In development for more than a decade, MIDS has become the de facto standard for military aircraft, because it gives pilots a real-time picture of the combat zone. The Navy already has committed to purchasing 5,000 to 6,000 MIDS radios.

European allies also employ the MIDS terminal, and helped fund the program. Nearly 60 percent of the terminals were built by Germany, Spain, Italy and France. Full rate production started in September 2003.

With billions of dollars already spent on MIDS development and procurement, the U.S. Navy was not receptive to the idea that it would have to spend yet additional billions to upgrade its aircraft with JTRS. The solution was to make the existing MIDS boxes "JTRS-compliant."

Each MIDS terminal costs about $250,000. By comparison, an Army voice radio (called SINCGARS) runs anywhere from $8,000 to $18,000. The Army's high-capacity data radio (called EPLRS) costs approximately $29,000.

In addition to being a data link and navigation system, MIDS is a communications terminal, with two secure voice channels.

When the JTRS program got under way in 2001, the Defense Department told the Navy to come up with a "migration plan" to transition MIDS to JTRS terminals.

The Navy estimated that just to retrofit MIDS-equipped aircraft with a new JTRS box would cost $150 million. A new radio requires compliant racks, mounts, cooling, and power systems. In the Super Hornet aircraft alone, just redesigning the avionics bay would have added $100 million to the program.

The Navy convinced the Defense Department that it makes more sense to modify the MIDS terminal so it could operate like a JTRS box--a PC-like device that runs radio waveforms as if they were software applications. …

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