In quest of the agnostic radio

Thirty-eight hundred members of the Army’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division are presently in the harsh mountain and desert environment around White Sands Missile Range, N.M., rubbing blown sand out of their eyes and staying hydrated.

It’s their job to test some of the crown jewels of the Army’s next-generation communications and network systems, particularly the Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) and Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit (HMS) radio. Both radio programs are undergoing key Limited User Tests (LUTs) at White Sands Missile Range this summer as part of the Army's Network Integration Evaluation.

However, the real crown jewels are the waveforms that reside on the radios, particularly the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW), both of which have already been deemed objective waveforms for the Army. This summer’s LUTs are less about the formal programs of record, less about the contracts, and less about the providers.

More importantly, it is about finally getting those waveforms matured so they can be ported to hardware agnostic radios that can be procured through open competitions with industry. If they can get the waveforms right, it will lead directly to driving cost out of the JTRS program, and lead to the new way of doing business the Army has been talking about for the last couple years.

(More information on the challenges faced by the 2-1 Brigade Combat Team is discussed in this month’s Commander View on page 31.)

A new way of doing business is also the plan behind the military’s huge investment in enterprise resource planning implementations to get a handle on procurement and logistics management, but it’s not going well, according to a recent GAO study that lays out serious delays and cost overruns for ERP programs at the Army, Air Force and Navy.

According to the GAO, of the Defense Department’s nine major ERP programs, six have had schedule delays ranging from 2 to 12 years, and five have incurred cost increases ranging from $530 million to $2.4 billion, forcing the military to continue paying to manage and support stove-piped legacy systems. (See the story on page 40 in this month’s issue.) The military has turned to companies like Oracle and SAP to implement those ERP systems, and these companies supposedly have year’s worth of experience implementing complicated systems for aerospace and defense manufacturers, as well as manufacturers across most sectors.

More times than not, though, these programs fall behind schedule and cost significantly more than planned. It seems to happen so often that one could argue that the purveyors of ERP solutions are underselling the challenges associated with them and overselling their ability to manage and implement these programs.

In recent years, the military has had some success in moving away from cost-plus contracts where vendors have little incentive to save money. In light of runaway implementation costs for military ERP systems, it is time for the DOD to shift more of the risk to the vendors that are the supposed experts.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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