JTRS program makes strides toward delivery
All aspects of the cornerstone program are poised for development, but program costs remain a challenge
- By Brian Robinson
- Nov 17, 2008
Nearly three years after it was radically redesigned, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program is finally producing the results that were expected of it as a provider of cutting-edge technology for the Global Information Grid and network-centric battlefield.
Officials at the JTRS Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO) said all JTRS elements have now passed Milestone B, which means they have been approved to enter the system development and demonstration phase. Milestone C production decisions are expected in the next few years, with the latest being announced by 2011.
Meanwhile, the new enterprise business model introduced with the redesign is based on open standards and intended to foster more competition for contracts. It has already saved the Defense Department close to $300 million and sharply cut the price of some JTRS terminals.
That’s a far cry from where JTRS was in 2005, when the program to introduce software-defined radios into the communications mix was on the rocks, as Dennis Bauman, joint program executive officer for JTRS, put it earlier this year.
At that point, JTRS was nothing more than a loose confederation of five Acquisition Category 1D programs, each of which was delivering everything at once, with the military services controlling their own programs and no single management structure guiding development.
That’s “a recipe for disaster in a highly technical environment,” Bauman said. So in 2006, JPEO was formed as the single authority for JTRS management, and deliverables were reorganized under a tightly defined incremental approach that introduces capabilities in stages rather than all at once.
JPEO also reorganized the JTRS acquisition process, replacing the traditional open competition and sole-source approach with one that relies on multiple qualified vendors and annual competition for production lots.
The goal of the JTRS program, which is more than 10 years old, is to produce a family of radios that will be configured for various handheld, ground, air and maritime platforms and will use a number of waveforms to communicate with one another and send data, voice and video to warfighters in the field.
The radios are intended to act as nodes on the networked battlefield of the future and eventually replace the military’s single-use radios.
The JTRS program is working its way through the first program increment that was defined after the 2006 reorganization. Its goal is to deliver tactical, ad hoc mobile and secure networking while ensuring interoperability with existing and future systems.
The number of waveforms used in Increment 1 were reduced from 32 to 11, allowing the program to focus on developing and testing critical networking capabilities and more commonly used waveforms, said Steven Davis, a JTRS spokesman. That approach not only reduces costly porting efforts but also increases the number of mobile ad hoc networking functions.
“The next wave of JTRS capabilities includes identifying targeted software upgrades to each of the current hardware sets and integrating additional capabilities in phases and in accordance with warfighter priorities,” Davis said. “These upgrades are designed to close the gap on behind-line-of-sight and line-of-sight capabilities and to thicken the network.”
JPEO is working with the Joint Staff to write the capabilities development document for Increment 2, which will appear in a program objective memorandum, he said.
Warfighter insight deemed essential
Although all JTRS components are seen as vital to future net-centric warfare, some are considered more crucial than others, at least in the short term. For example, the Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) is considered crucial to the success of the Army’s Future Combat Systems because it provides the networking capabilities used in FCS vehicles.
In January, the Army and prime contractor Boeing demonstrated for the first time that GMRs could receive data from tactical unattended ground sensors — one of the first FCS technologies that will be deployed to current forces — and send it to nearby vehicles equipped with the FCS network integration system.
Boeing has been following a parallel development track with the JTRS and FCS evaluation teams, said Ralph Moslener, JTRS GMR program director at Boeing. Of the 121 GMR pre-engineering development models (EDMs) the company built, 70 went to FCS.
“The [FCS team] completed preliminary user testing on Aug. 2,” he said. “We took that data, which includes feedback from actual warfighters, and made updates to the software based on that.”
Boeing plans to use input from warfighters to reduce the risk in developing GMRs, Moslener said.
The company delivered the first two of the next-stage EDMs in mid-September, and deliveries will continue into next year. Formal testing of the radios is scheduled to take place from spring 2009 to the third quarter of 2010, when DOD officials are expected to make the decision to begin low-rate production of the radios, Moslener said. Full-rate production is expected by 2012.
“There are no more technology breakthroughs that are needed,” Moslener said. “The challenge now is integration of hardware to hardware, hardware to software and software to software.”
Officials should make the decision about Milestone C for the Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) radio by spring 2009, Davis said.
The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, which hosts the JTRS JPEO, awarded ViaSat a $9.8 million contract in July for 18 MIDS pre-production terminals that will be used for testing and integration. MIDS is also on track to complete tests for a National Security Agency certification early next year, Davis added.
MIDS terminals will eventually replace the low-volume terminals the Navy, Air Force and coalition forces have used for the past decade. The single-channel radios rely on Link 16, a secure, jam-resistant waveform, to share voice and digital data among military forces.
“Once delivered, MIDS JTRS will provide enhanced Link 16 capability, [Tactical Air Navigation] and voice, and an additional three qualified reprogrammable channels that provide the capacity to install other JTRS legacy or networking waveforms in the terminal,” Davis said.
The JTRS Airborne and Maritime Fixed Station (AMF) was the most recent JTRS program to enter the system development and demonstration phase, with a $766 million prime contract awarded to Lockheed Martin in March.
The company will implement five of the JTRS waveforms and provide networking and interoperable communications for more than 100 types of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, submarines and surface ships. It will also support fixed stations such as Air Force air operations centers; battle control systems; ground intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sites; and Navy shore-based command-and-control centers.
According to the contract, the Lockheed Martin team will develop 42 EDMs for the small airborne-configured system and develop the initial maritime radio EDMs for destroyers. The contract includes an option for low rate initial production of 45 maritime/fixed station sets and 104 small airborne sets.
Initial production should begin in 2012, after a Milestone C decision is reached in 2011, JPEO officials said. If everything goes as planned, an initial operating capability for warfighters will be announced in 2014.
Handheld/Manpack/Small Form Fit (HMS) is probably the JTRS program with the broadest reach, given that the resulting radio will integrate with a slew of items warfighters will use on the networked battlefield.
The primary goal is to build a small module about the size of a hockey puck that contains the core radio for HMS, Bauman said.
“We reuse that core radio across all different form factors in HMS that range from the largest, being a manpack, and the smallest, [being] a puck-sized device that goes on intelligent munitions, sensor fields, minefields and more,” he said.
General Dynamics, the prime vendor for the HMS program, conducted field tests in October that proved the radios’ interoperability, range, video transmission and networking abilities. One field experiment at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., that used a two-channel manpack radio exceeded a 20-kilometer range test for transmitting voice and data over rugged terrain, company officials said.
In November, the Army Evaluation Task Force at Fort Bliss, Texas, is scheduled to conduct a user evaluation of an HMS single-channel radio for ground soldiers — the Small Form Fit-C Version 1, otherwise known as the rifleman radio. Procurement plans won’t be settled until after the tests are finished, but low rate initial production is expected to begin in October 2009.
Officials plan to introduce the radio, which will be part of the Army’s Ground Soldier Ensemble, at the same time that they release other FCS-related items, such as unattended ground sensors and small unmanned ground vehicles.
Beyond the confines of the program, JTRS continues to battle concerns about the cost of the new radios. A recent Government Accountability Office report said the high costs associated with JTRS were becoming a concern, with the price of vehicle-based radios as much as 10 times that of the devices they are intended to replace.
The original goal was to replace all military radios with JTRS radios, but delays have spurred about $5.7 billion in spending on existing radios to meet communication needs. Because the recently purchased radios are expected to have a useful life of 10 to 15 years, DOD might have to reconsider its decision to replace all existing radios with JTRS devices, GAO said.
JTRS officials have countered that view by pointing to the new acquisition process and the competition it will foster from the design phase all the way through to manufacturing, with much lower prices as a result.
At an industry conference earlier this year, Howard Pace, deputy joint program executive officer for JTRS, said the plan is to open the competition for JTRS as much as possible, even allowing vendors to compete for contracts on separate levels of JTRS radio development.
No JTRS radios are in production yet, so it’s difficult to say what impact that approach will have on prices. However, JTRS officials are using their experience with the Consolidated, Interim, Single-Channel, Handheld Radio as a model.
Devised in 2007, that program was an interim step toward getting software-defined radios to warfighters in the field while full-fledged JTRS radios were being developed. It offers single-channel radios from the Thales Group and Harris, which the military has used for several years.
Both radios are JTRS-approved, meaning they meet at least the basic operational requirements for JTRS radios. They’ve been selling in the tens of thousands, with the latest contract a $96.7 million order for 9,300 handheld and 6,100 vehicle radios from Harris.
The competition for that business is estimated to have saved DOD about $280 million in the program’s first year, Davis said.