Dollar here, dollar there

Don't worry, the Army probably won't repossess your prosthesis.

In the same week the United States recorded its 2,000th combat death in Iraq, the Army issued a press release stating that the service's wounded-in-action (WIA) pay database "may still have a few bugs to iron out before the dust settles for at least a few soldiers now undergoing rehabilitation stateside.''

G. Eric Reid, director of the Army Finance Command, said that until those bugs are worked out, the Army might bill wounded soldiers for housing or transportation costs because, "unfortunately, a housing office or a travel computation office may not always be aware of a WIA soldier's circumstances. So they simply process billing actions like any normal ones.''

Reid said that because the Army put the WIA pay database online a year ago, you would think it would have exterminated the bugs by now. We're talking databases here, not loopy megabillion-dollar Future Combat Systems.

The incredible Marine Corps tactical radio shortfall

Earlier this month, the Marine Corps awarded Harris a $205 million blanket purchase agreement for a standardized radio program that would yield products that can cross the radio spectrum and help fulfill different missions. The agreement includes a $67 million contract for delivery of the radios this year.

But Lt. Col. Jay Storms, the Marines' program manager for tactical radios, said the Harris contract is just a drop in the bucket compared with the Marines' requirements. He estimated that the shortfall of tactical radios currently amounts to about $1.1 billion.

Storms was politically astute enough to not blame the way-over-budget and way-behind-schedule Joint Tactical Radio System program for this mind-boggling shortage of essential gear. But Storms added that he did not expect the Marine Corps to receive any JTRS gear until 2011, which may be why the service calls the new Harris radios "standard." The radios operate across a wide swath of military spectrum, from 30 MHz to 512 MHz.

Dana Mehnert, vice president and general manager of U.S. government products at Harris' RF Communications Division, agreed with Storms and said he did not expect JTRS radios to be available to troops until well into the next decade. That would put the JTRS gestation period at 20 years. Where's Marconi when we really need him?

Our pals at the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, which inherited the JTRS fiasco from the Army earlier this year, tell us that the Defense Acquisition Board will determine the program's fate at a meeting next month.

JTRS update: Not really one

In preparing for JTRS judgment day, Spawar, under the auspices of the new JTRS Joint Program Executive Office, has been holding a series of mini-Defense Acquisition Board meetings to assess the radio system's four clusters, said Richard North, technical director of the JTRS JPEO, speaking a couple of weeks ago at the Milcom 2005 conference.

North wouldn't divulge any of the conclusions reached to date on the status of the clusters since Spawar took over the ill-fated program in February. He said the JTRS JPEO is still doing assessments and meeting with the Joint Staff to prioritize JTRS requirements.

The Interceptors would like to know how the Boeing-built JTRS radio fared during a hastily called test this spring to see what it could do. Has anyone heard?

No vouchers for radios

And while we're beating the drum on tactical radios, the Army will not reimburse soldiers who bought radios from Crutchfield and Radio Shack so they could communicate in Iraq, according to a new policy issued earlier this month.

The Army said it would pay for protective, safety or health equipment -- including shipping costs -- for soldiers who bought the tools for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan or for homeland security-related work.

"No, radios are not being considered," wrote Margaret McBride, an Army spokeswoman, in an e-mail response to us.

She added that the Army is spending $32 million for 20,000 handheld Icom radios. n

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