JTRS business model opens door to innovation

Plan seeks to reduce military's reliance on proprietary approaches

As the Joint Tactical Radio System slowly winds through its development cycle, the Defense Department has opened access to the radio technology that forms the foundation of JTRS devices in hopes that companies can build and deliver devices urgently in demand in the battlefield.

The Joint Program Executive Office for JTRS (JPEO-JTRS) launched the Enterprise Business Model in 2006 to let manufacturers outside JTRS programs of record borrow waveforms from the repository and develop JTRS-compatible radios without the time and development costs typically associated with programs of record.

Although no JTRS-compatible radios have been deployed to the battlefield through the Enterprise Business Model, JTRS managers say it will pay dividends by reducing the military’s reliance on sole-source and proprietary solutions.

“As we’ve laid that foundation for the Enterprise Business Model, there have been pieces we’ve found that have been very successful, like our competition piece, and there are pieces that we’ve had to rethink,” said Ruthann Reese, JPEO-JTRS acquisition director. “We’re trying to use our lessons learned as we go forward in both how we shape the Enterprise Business Model and how we do day-to-day business.”

Reese emphasized that the Enterprise Business Model is unique in DOD because JTRS waveforms that companies such as Boeing, ITT and Lockheed Martin have developed are stored in the JTRS Information Repository and can be checked out like books from a library and incorporated into other radios outside the programs of record.

“We’ve seen examples of where companies are using their own internal R&D dollars [to do things like that], though we haven’t seen a product out of that as of yet,” she said. “Hardware developers like Harris and Thales are refining their hardware and radios in order to accept the software. I think that both the government and the developers and vendors sides are still working towards that."

“I would say that the technology is coming together, and it’s very close," Reese added. "Once we get a couple of them doing that, it will explode, and it will be like the iPhone example.”

Groundbreaking Approaches

For instance, Harris has been looking at porting waveforms such as the Wideband Networking Waveform and the Soldier Radio Waveform to its Falcon III AN/PRC-117G tactical radio. Though the radio is an NSA Type 1-certified radio, it is outside the JTRS programs of record.

“The Harris radio is not a true JTRS-approved radio in that sense,” said Jeff Mercer, director of strategic communications at JPEO-JTRS. “I will tell you, and Harris will tell you this also, that they feel they have met similar criteria that was basically used for the AN/PRC-152 radio when it was granted a JTRS-approved label. But it hasn’t been officially, formally tested by the JTRS program per se or given a document that says that it’s a JTRS-approved radio. But they do have at their disposal the ability to pull those government waveforms out of the Information Repository and port them to technologies like the [AN/PRC-117] and turn around and offer that back to the government.”

That development model is increasingly in effect for radios such as the AN/PRC-152, which Harris introduced in 2005 and is certified by JPEO-JTRS to operate existing waveforms such as the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System. In addition, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence is looking to port the ITT-developed Bowman waveform to the Harris radio. France’s Thales builds a similar single-channel handheld radio, called the AN/PRC-148 Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio, which is also a candidate for adopting the Bowman waveform.

“We’re going to see more and more of that, especially as we look to leveraging commercial off-the-shelf technology in the future, in addition to programs of record,” Mercer said. “That Information Repository is the source of waveforms that were developed and are available for access and use on technology that could be brought back to the government for purchase.”

In some ways, the Enterprise Business Model allows JPEO-JTRS to unchain itself from the DOD acquisition system. By charter, the JTRS programs of record must deliver their capabilities based on validated requirements. Radios developed outside that system, such as some of Harris' products, don’t need to meet that criterion.

“We certainly pay attention to those validated requirements, but we are in a position to much more quickly bring certified products to the market inside of the time period that JPEO-JTRS can deliver its programs of record,” said Steve Marschilok, president of the DOD business unit at Harris RF Communications. “What they’ll probably tell you is that the current acquisition system just doesn’t have the ability to react fast enough to deliver IT capabilities."

“Our commercial business model is much more agile, and given that we operate within that Enterprise Business Model, we ruthlessly hold ourselves to standards that are developed by JPEO-JTRS in order to have that interoperability," Marschilok said. "It’s like the development of cell phones. We’re able to bring a new cell phone to market much quicker than the DOD can.”

Opportunity to Compete

So what do companies get by investing their own internal R&D funding to develop radios outside the JTRS programs of record? Is there a quid pro quo between DOD and the private sector that states that a commercial company that follows that route will be guaranteed a certain quantity of sales?

Reese says no, adding that their potential benefits come from being able to enter into competition with other JTRS-certified radios for future consolidated single-channel handheld radio contracts.

“That’s where we are trying to open the aperture, if you will, to competition,” she said. “Once a radio company develops this radio, ports the waveform and meets the criteria, as we issue RFPs for delivery orders for additional radios, they can be a competitor on that delivery order. We can’t promise anything on what the military services will buy. But we make sure the services know that there is an additional capability out there that they might be interested in. We’re able to reduce the cost by having that type of competition.”

In addition to the potential to save money, DOD also has an agreement that any company that checks out a waveform from the JTRS Information Repository must return the modified or improved waveform back to the repository so future users can take advantage of those modifications.

“They get the benefit of the original waveform; we get the benefit of the changes that they might make to improve that waveform,” Reese said.

In the future, JPEO-JTRS is looking for ways to lower the barriers that have possibly kept small and midsize companies from competing for JTRS contracts.

“I’m working with some small and medium-sized companies and some large companies that aren’t necessarily in the radio industry to figure out what those barriers are, how we break them down and how we bring in more competition,” Reese said.

About the Author

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

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