The new Ada?

One wag at the Modern Day Marine Military Exposition in Quantico, Va., last week described the behind-schedule, $6.8 billion Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program as the new Ada, which, you might remember, was the Pentagon's programming language of choice until it was overtaken by commercial technology and generally abandoned.

The JTRS program is supposed to develop a family of tactical "software-defined radios" for all four services. But it seems the JTRS folks are having a rough time explaining what a software-defined radio is. Meanwhile, radio operators in the Central Command's area of responsibility are toting around radios that have logged more time in the corps — and on the planet — than some of the radio operators have.

Reinventing the Internet?

By picking up signals instead of only applying the IP stack to the software-defined radio, JTRS folks are, to use the words of one of our correspondents, "reinventing the Internet." This is a time when 802.11b chips, which handle wireless well in all kinds of commercial Wi-Fi systems, sell for less than the cost of a one-day pass to ride the Washington, D.C., subway.

Maybe Al Gore can help them with their Internet problem.

Wireless workarounds

The Defense Department's ban on the purchase of new tactical radios has not stopped the Marine Warfighting Lab at Quantico from testing all kinds of battlefield communications systems, including a mobile command center developed by General Dynamics C4 Systems. The center uses National Security Agency-certified secure 802.11 Wi-Fi gear to feed information from a mess of computers in a Humvee-towed trailer to commanders on the move.

The mobile command center also can connect Marine commanders with anyone worldwide via the Expeditionary Tactical Communications System (ETCS). The system uses Iridium Satellite LLC phones configured to route calls as IP traffic through the DOD Iridium gateway in Wahiawa, Hawaii. Hmmm, a field radio that uses IP to route traffic.

Capt. Matt Simmons, ETCS program manager, said the modified Iridium handsets also have built-in Global Positioning System technology, which allows them to automatically transmit location information to Global Command and Control System terminals. The Marines have already deployed about 10 ETCS handsets in Iraq and are testing another 400, which are ready to be deployed to Marine units in the Centcom area of responsibility and the United States.

Knowledge is a good thing...

...and the Army plans to keep it around for a while with its Army Knowledge Online (AKO) portal.

Kevin Carroll, chief of the Army Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems — and a lover of knowledge — said the service has extended a contract with CherryRoad Technologies Inc. to operate AKO through fiscal 2005 while Army officials work on a new lead system integrator contract slated for award in fiscal 2006.

VSAT shortfall

We hear that Army aviation units have a communications problem. Officials want to connect six very small-aperture terminals (VSAT) per aviation brigade to improve supply ordering and tracking. But the fielding plan in the Office of the Army Chief Information Officer allocates only one VSAT terminal, according to documents from an Aug. 20 meeting of the Army Aviation Task Force.

The Army CIO is developing a strategy to come up with an additional $9 million for VSAT fielding and training, the documents state.

Maybe the Marines could lend them a few ETCS radios.

Blind man's NMCI

In his final session with the press this month on the eve of his departure as Navy Marine Corps Intranet director, Rear Adm. Charles Munns referred to his two-and-a-half-year tenure running the troubled program as the most challenging of his naval career.

Not even his tour as commanding officer of USS Richard B. Russell attack submarine during the Cold War equaled NMCI in terms of a challenge, Munns said.

Whew! This illustrates what a troubled project NMCI has been, because the Russell is one of the subs whose exploits against the Soviet Union — though never officially acknowledged by the Navy — are celebrated in the book "Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage."

That 1999 book details operations such as the use of subs, including the Russell, to tap into underseas Soviet communications cables, play "chicken" with Soviet attack subs and retrieve U.S. hydrogen bombs lost in the deep sea.

The Navy needs to come up with an NMCI campaign ribbon for Munns and his staff.

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