Happy JTRS New Year

We can't think of a better way to start 2006 than to provide an update on our favorite overbudget, woefully behind-schedule project -- the Pentagon's $20 billion-plus effort to reinvent radio: the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).

It looks like the end is near for JTRS as we have known and loved it for years, based on language in the final version of the fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations bill. Lawmakers passed the bill before they left town last month.

That language states that the Defense Department must submit a report to Congress that includes the military's mitigation plans "to compensate for the restructuring of the JTRS program." The report, due by the end of January, must include the costs of buying and fielding existing radios instead of adopting complex families of software-defined JTRS gear.

Because the Army has based the networking of all platforms in its Future Combat Systems architecture on JTRS, Congress wants the Army to explain how it will do that given the revisions to the JTRS project.

Congress also wants the report to include a summary of decisions made in Defense Acquisition Board meetings last August and November.

We're curious about those decisions, too. Steven Davis, media liaison officer at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar), which is now managing JTRS, said he'll let us know soon. One of the Interceptors will be in San Diego this week, which is the perfect opportunity to drop by Spawar for a JTRS tell-all.

Temper that Transformational Satcom

As we have already reported, Congress slashed the fiscal 2006 budget for the Transformational Satellite Communications program, which likes to refer to itself as TSAT. Like JTRS, it is another major program to extend broadband capabilities to deployed units. Language in the fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations bill walls off $120 million of the $426 million left in the TSAT budget for use in the Advanced EHF or Wideband Gapfiller Satellites program.

According to one of the bill's provisions, DOD must evaluate whether those programs can provide TSAT capabilities at a lower cost while the TSAT program office works out the kinks in laser-based satellite cross-link systems and satellite routers and processors.

Maybe the TSAT folks should ask for help from Cisco Systems subsidiary Linksys, which has a plug-and-play network device for almost any kind of wired or wireless network.

The pork parade

Troops lack essential gear, the Navy does not have enough money to build ships, and we hear the Air Force is going to cut back on golf course maintenance. But Congress still uses the DOD spending bill as a piggy bank for nondefense projects.

Our favorite this year is the $1 million earmarked for the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.

The center, located on the site of an old ironworks on the James River in Richmond, Va., is famous for manufacturing armor plates for the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, formerly USS Merrimack.

As ironworks fans, we can hardly wait to visit the center the next time we're in Richmond so we can see our taxpayer dollars at work.

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