DOD officials await April tests to determine future of software radio
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.
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