JTRS on the Skids

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The cornerstone of the Army Future Combat System has come under more scrutiny this month with a scathing article in National Defense magazine that shows a key communications program is underperforming and taking too long to bear fruit.

The Joint Tactical Radio System has been touted by Army planners as a key ingredient in the FCS system of systems, allowing soldiers to communicate across the networks on a common radio architecture. The plan makes sense, and builds on revelations from the attacks on 9/11 that showed various government and civilian agencies couldnt communicate with each other because they used distinct radio systems and networks.

(From the Armys FCS program document)

The FCS (BCT) Family-of-Systems (FoS) are connected to the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) network by a multilayered transport layer with unprecedented range, capacity and dependability. The primarily mobile transport layer provides secure, reliable access to information sources over extended distances and complex terrain. The network will support advanced functionalities such as integrated network management, information assurance and information dissemination management to ensure dissemination of critical information among sensors, processors and warfighters both within, and external to the FCS (BCT)-equipped organization.

The FCS (BCT) transport layer does not rely on a large and separate infrastructure because it is primarily embedded in the mobile platforms and moves with the combat formations. This enables the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) network to provide superior Battle Command (BC) on the move to achieve offensive-oriented, high-tempo operations.

The FCS (BCT) transport layer is comprised of several heterogeneous communication systems including the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). FCS (BCT) leverages all available resources to provide a robust, survivable, scalable and reliable heterogeneous communications network that seamlessly integrates ground, near ground, airborne and space-borne assets for constant connectivity and layered redundancy.

The FCS (BCT) Network Management System will be utilized to manage the entire FCS (BCT) network including radios with different waveforms, platform routers, and local area networks (LANs), information assurance elements, and hosts. It provides a full spectrum of management capabilities required during all mission phases, including pre-mission planning, rapid network configuration upon deployment in the area of operations, monitoring the network during mission execution and dynamic adaptation of network policies in response to network performance and failure conditions.

The military has been trying for years to standardize its radio communications but has run up against some serious technical and hardware barriers that still keeps common radios out of the troops hands. Remember stories about field commanders using Thuraya satellite phones and Aol Instant Messaging to pass information across the battlefield during the ground invasion of Iraq in 2003?

From National Defense

During the past four years, the services (mostly the Army) have spent nearly $4 billion on new radios. By comparison, between 1998 and 2001, their radio purchases amounted to less than $1 billion, according to Defense Department estimates. More than 60 percent of all radios procured are either individual handheld or squad-level manpack.

Before the war, the services were not allowed to purchase radios unless they obtained a JTRS waiver from the office of the assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration. The policy aimed to discourage purchases of non-JTRS radios.

But Army officials complained that the waiver was a bureaucratic burden that hindered their ability to rapidly deliver radios to troops in Iraq. The Pentagon subsequently agreed to suspend the waiver, although it recently approved a limited policy that only applies to single-channel handheld radios.

Radio manufacturers, who had envisaged a financial boon from JTRS contracts, gradually realized that they could make better profits by ramping up production of existing radios in response to the militarys surging demand. Some contractors privately admit they have soured on JTRS, especially once they saw that their customers in the armed services had begun to lose confidence in the program.

(Read the entire National Defense article HERE)

So, National Defense shows Pentagon officials are starting to back off their forceful endorsement of JTRS, allowing the services to purchase more modern versions of the radios they have now.

As the program continues to lose support across the military services, Defense Department officials are engineering a last-ditch effort to save what is increasingly a shaky procurement plan. They also are backing away from earlier demands that the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps stop buying their own service-unique radios in favor of a joint family of radios.

Theyre better, for sure, but they still lock the services on their own communications track keeping the disjointed comms problem alive and raising yet more questions about the viability of the FCS program.

(Gouge: NC)

-- Christian

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