Magazine article National Defense

Procurement Decisions: Delays in 'Joint Tactical Radio' Program Cast Doubts on Future

Magazine article National Defense

Procurement Decisions: Delays in 'Joint Tactical Radio' Program Cast Doubts on Future

Article excerpt

The military services by and large have abandoned a Pentagon-directed effort to replace their combat radios with new digital devices, at least for the foreseeable future.

Ten years after the Defense Department launched its ambitious "joint tactical radio system," the project remains stuck in uncertainty. Although JTRS supporters cite some accomplishments--such as the successful development of a handheld radio for special operations forces--the majority of troops in the field will continue to operate existing radios for decades to come.

JTRS radios are programmable PC-like devices that are designed to operate multiple software radio applications, known as waveforms. The Defense Department originally had planned to buy as many as 750,000 JTRS units to replace the radios used by dismounted troops, as well as those found in ground vehicles, airplanes, ships and military bases.

But the plan took an abrupt turn when the Army and Marine Corps, as they prepared to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, suddenly found themselves woefully short of modern combat radios. Those technologies had been under-funded for years, because the Army had assumed it would enjoy an extended post-Cold War peacetime and could afford to wait until JTRS came to fruition beginning in 2009.

Since 2002, the services have spent nearly $9 billion on radios that already existed in the inventory--dubbed "legacy" radios--and progressively have come to view JTRS as a luxury that they may not be able to afford, even if the technology ends up delivering what it promises.

"We were going to wait for JTRS before 9/11," said Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army's chief information officer.

The Army's large expenditures on legacy radios, however, are not the only reason why JTRS has been downsized--some say, decimated. The program from the get-go was too ambitious and underestimated the cost and complexity of developing software applications that met the rigorous military specs and National Security Agency encryption requirements. At least two Government Accountability Office reports in recent years chastised the Defense Department for mismanaging JTRS, for failing to articulate how the technology would work in the real world, and how specifically it could contribute to military operations.

The Pentagon directed a major reorganization of JTRS in 2005, including a new management structure, in an effort to save the program. The current program executive, Dennis M. Bauman, got a five-year $4 billion budget to complete JTRS development by 2009. But the scope of the project was reduced substantially. Instead of aiming for a network that could accommodate all 32 of the military's radio waveforms, the revised JTRS will be limited to just nine. Also, JTRS radios would be compatible with 13 major weapon systems, rather than the 26 originally planned.

Bauman had estimated that it needed $6 billion for JTRS development, but the Pentagon agreed to fund $4 billion. Still, this was good news to program officials, Bauman told reporters last year, because it was appreciably more money than the $2.3 billion that was in the budget before he took over.

Beyond the R&D phase, however, the fimding prospects for JTRS have turned bleaker, as the services have indicated they have no intention of procuring large quantities of JTRS radios during the next five years.

The Air Force and the Navy have delayed a contract award for the so-called "airborne maritime fixed facilities" JTRS radios, even though the contractors said the technology is ready for prototyping.

The Army's 2008-2013 budget, according to a program official, includes funds for 1,000 ground-vehicle JTRS radios. The original plan, before the war, was to buy 100,000.

But if in fact the Army does not intend to buy large quantities of JTRS radios, critics question why the Defense Department has committed $1 billion in R&D costs for the ground vehicle radios. …

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