Domestic Army, National Guard units lack radios

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Army active-duty and National Guard forces still face a shortage of essential battlefield communications gear, especially tactical radios, top Army and National Guard leaders said Sept. 17 at the 128th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States here.

Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told Federal Computer Week that although Guard units operating in Iraq are fully equipped with the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS), the basic VHF-FM radio used by ground forces and Guard units in the United States remain critically short of these radios.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey said the radio shortage does not only affect Guard forces. “Everyone is short of radios,” Harvey said at a press briefing here.

Although Blum said he did not have the exact figures on the Guard SINCGARS shortage, the September issue of National Guard Magazine distributed here put that figure at 20,000, a number an association spokesman said came from the bureau.

Despite this shortage, Congress cut funding for SINCGARS procurement in the Defense Department 2006 supplemental funding bill and the 2007 House appropriations bill.

Congress slashed funds requested for SINCGARS in the emergency supplemental by $167 million, to $525 million. The House approved a SINCGARS appropriation of $66.2 million in its version of the 2007 DOD spending bill, $50.3 million short of the $116.5 million the Bush administration had requested.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report earlier this month on the Joint Tactical Radio System that DOD spent $1.3 billion from 2005 to 2006 on SINCGARS for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. JTRS is a nine-year-old program to replace battlefield radios such as SINCGARS with a new family of software-defined radios whose budget has jumped to $37 billion.

Those purchases did not help resolve the SINCARS shortfalls for Guard units performing key homeland defense or relief missions at home, the spokesman said.

The magazine said many Guard units operating at home must use radios originally deployed during the Vietnam War.

Harvey said the Guard faces $37 billion in equipment shortages, but the Army has a plan to fully supply Guard units with new equipment by 2013. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have also taken a financial toll on Army equipment, he added. In 2007 the service will need to replace, repair or recapitalize $17 billion worth of equipment

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