Future JTRS work put on hold

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Amid concerns that the innovative Joint Tactical Radio System may be behind schedule and over budget, Defense Department officials are considering a wholesale change in the system's delivery.

Pentagon officials are considering asking JTRS' prime contractor, Boeing, to build and deliver a part of the system for ground vehicles and rotary-wing aircraft. The change comes after Boeing officials notified DOD in December that they would need more time and money to finish the job.

The multibillion-dollar system is actually a computer with a radio front end. DOD officials believe JTRS will help eliminate communications problems that result from warfighters using different radio bands that keep them from talking with one another. JTRS is being developed in parts, referred to as clusters.

Last month Pentagon officials instructed Boeing to halt work on future development and instead focus on short-term goals.

DOD officials will decide whether to change JTRS' delivery schedule in April, after they test the Cluster 1 radios.

Linton Wells II, DOD's acting chief information officer, said he may tell Boeing officials to build and deliver the Cluster 1 radios in spirals so they can be delivered more quickly to troops in combat with new capabilities added as they become available. Wells was interviewed after his presentation at a luncheon sponsored by AFCEA International's Washington, D.C., Chapter Feb. 11.

Air Force Col. Steven MacLaird, director of the JTRS Joint Program Office, confirmed that Boeing might build the radio system in installments. "There is a way ahead," MacLaird said. "We will have to assess them."

Wells said he sent officials from the DOD CIO's office to meet with Boeing and Army officials earlier this month to get a status report on Cluster 1.

He declined to comment on how much more time and money Boeing officials might need until after his staff reports back to him. He did say, however, that he is disappointed with JTRS' progress.

Proposals under consideration include a 22-month delay and a $29.7 million increase, according to military and industry officials familiar with the contract.

DOD officials planned for the devices developed through the $6.8 billion JTRS program to replace existing tactical radios, which soldiers carry or mount on vehicles, aircraft and ships. Those 750,000 radios would be replaced with 180,000 software-defined radios, which could operate in battlefield environments and across a wide swath of the radio frequency spectrum.

Col. Nick Justice, deputy program executive officer in the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, said officials in Defense agencies and the military services added requirements to the radios that caused the schedule delay and cost increase.

"The original design cannot do all the capacity," Justice said.

"Evolving security requirements, known design changes and extended formal testing have added cost and schedule to the program," Army officials said in a statement.

Members of the Defense Acquisition Board are expected to make a decision on the future of the program this summer.

"The Army is confident that the results of early operational assessment will prove that the JTRS vision is a viable and effective transformation enabler," the Army statement says.

"We look forward to the early operational assessment to show what the radio can do," said Ralph Moslener, Boeing's JTRS program manager.

JTRS jitters

The following is a timeline of the Joint Tactical Radio System.

June 2002: Army officials award an $856 million contract to an industry team led by Boeing to develop, test and build JTRS radios for Army, Marine Corps and Air Force tactical air control parties and for Army rotary-wing aircraft.

December 2004: Boeing officials notify Pentagon officials they need more time and money.

January 2005: Defense Department and military officials tell Boeing to prepare for the radio test in April but halt the program's future development

activities.

April 2005: Military and industry officials will start an 18-day test of three five-channel ground/vehicular JTRS radios, one seven-channel tactical air control party radio, and the JTRS software communications architecture and information assurance features.

August 2005: The Defense Acquisition Board will meet to discuss the test's results and approve a strategy for JTRS Cluster 1.

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