DOD wants joint radio fix

Boeing could lose deal if it fails to provide improvement plan

In an unusual move, Defense Department officials took the first step last week toward canceling a contract with Boeing for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Cluster 1 program.

DOD officials sent a "show cause" letter April 26 to Boeing explaining that they may terminate the JTRS Cluster 1 contract because they anticipate that the company will not meet cost, schedule and performance requirements. Company officials must send a letter within 30 days to the Army officials managing the multimillion-dollar program at Fort Monmouth, N.J., to explain how they plan to get the contract back on track.

JTRS is an innovative but complex program that seeks to develop a family of software-defined radios that would replace hundreds of hardware-based ones. The new radios would use software to easily change frequency and modulation, and they would also support narrowband voice and broadband data requirements. The radios would facilitate easier updates.

DOD and Boeing leaders were not available to discuss the letter but provided comments through their spokesmen.

"The government retains its authority to examine and potentially implement a range of options based on Boeing's response, from full contract termination to contract restructuring to continuation of the current contract," said Army Lt. Col. Chris Conway, public affairs officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration and Chief Information Officer, in an April 27 statement.

"We are reviewing the letter from our government customer notifying us of their concerns on the JTRS Cluster 1 program," said John Morrocco, director of communications for Army systems in Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems' business unit, in a statement last week. "We are working with [DOD] to fully understand those concerns in order to prepare a comprehensive response and build an approach to move the program forward."

When asked about the letter at an industry event April 29, DOD CIO Linton Wells said department officials put JTRS, including Cluster 1, under the management of Dennis Bauman, program executive officer for command, control, communications and intelligence, and space at the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Center. Wells said Bauman continues to evaluate the program.

The letter illustrates that DOD officials mean business, said an attorney in Washington, D.C., who specializes in military contracts. "The government doesn't send them idly," said the attorney, who requested anonymity. "Someone has serious concerns about their ability to complete the contract."

Despite what DOD officials wrote in their letter, the JTRS Cluster 1 program could still succeed. "People sometimes don't talk when bad things happen," the attorney said. The letter "usually improves communications. It can be a good thing."

Army officials awarded an $856 million contract in 2002 to an industry team led by Boeing to develop, test and build JTRS radios for the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force, including rotary-wing aircraft radios for the Army. The contract called for the industry team, which includes BAE Systems, Harris, Northrop Grumman and Rockwell Collins, to deliver 1,200 low-rate, initial production radios later this year. But that will not happen.

Of the $856 million, $573 million has been spent. DOD and the Army could recoup $28 million if they terminate the program, said a department official, who also requested anonymity.

DOD's letter marks the second drastic step that department and Army officials have taken this year regarding concerns that JTRS may be behind schedule and over budget. In January, Pentagon officials told Boeing to stop work on future development to focus on short-term goals after company officials told them last December that they would need more time and money to develop the radios.

DOD officials also changed the JTRS program's management structure. Last month, department officials confirmed they chose Bauman to lead a new joint program executive office that will oversee JTRS.

"The first and immediate action of the joint program executive officer is to evaluate current cost, schedule and performance for all JTRS activities beginning with Cluster 1 and the waveform development strategy," said Michael Wynne, acting undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, in a Feb. 5 memo. "The JTRS joint program executive officer will provide to me his evaluation of the Cluster 1 program within 60 days of appointment with recommendations for any changes to the current direction."

DOD plans to test JTRS radios next month. They may tell Boeing to build and deliver the Cluster 1 radios in spirals, sending the equipment to troops early on and adding new capabilities as they become available.

Army officials said evolving security requirements, design changes and extended formal testing added to the program's cost and schedule. A Boeing official said the rotary-wing JTRS version, for example, now weighs 146 pounds, 31 pounds more than it should. The official added that Boeing officials prepared several concepts to reduce it to 115 pounds.

One step at a time

Boeing officials involved with the Joint Tactical Radio System Cluster 1 program said they have completed several program requirements during the past three years. They include:

  • Conducting two program design reviews.
  • Constructing 47 components.
  • Developing an operating environment.
  • Integrating waveforms, including the first increment of the wideband networking waveform that brings Internet-like services to the battlefield.
  • Building, integrating and testing a development model of the radio.
  • Producing 17 single-channel radios that are ready for waveform development and integration.
  • Building multichannel radios that are ready for final integration.
  • — Frank Tiboni

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