DOD ponders next steps after GMR cancellation

Tentative plans call for new radio selection in 2012.

The recent cancellation of the Joint Tactical Radio System’s (JTRS) Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) has caused the Defense Department to focus on selecting and procuring an existing commercially developed radio.

The JTRS program office is in discussions with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to develop a new acquisition strategy, JTRS Program Executive Officer Army Brig. Gen. Michael Williamson said at a media briefing Oct. 18. Although a schedule is still being worked out, the goal is to have an open competition for a new radio sometime in 2012. It will focus on mature technologies that can be immediately moved to production. This also meshes with the Army’s new acquisition process, which emphasizes affordability, rewards competition and seeks technological maturity, he said.

A number of cost and performance problems caused the demise of the GMR, the most troubled part of the JTRS program, which seeks to replace the many different radios used by the military with a single radio capable of handling multiple waveforms. The GMR would have equipped Army and Marine Corps ground vehicles and command posts.

One of the factors that contributed to the end of GMR was the cancellation of the Future Combat Systems program, which reduced the number of radios from 86,000 down to slightly more than 10,000. This reduction drove up the radios’ price beyond the service’s cost limits, Williamson said. The cost spike also triggered a cost review by the OSD, which is required under the Nunn-McCurdy Act.

As the JTRS program began reviewing its options under Nunn-McCurdy, the Army indicated that it had a gap in tactical communications systems that still needed to be met. The program is tentatively looking to begin a source selection for a mature radio in 2012 to meet a production order in 2013.

However, nothing is fully established at the moment, Williamson cautioned. The JTRS Joint Program Office is still working out the details of its new strategy which then must be approved by Frank Kendall, the acting under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. “We have an idea how to do that. That would require us getting an RFP [request for proposal] out on the street in the next few months if you really want to support delivering radios in 2013,” he said.

One of the problems will be how the evaluations are run, because the Army must have is requirements firmly established before it begins the selection process. “I’m more concerned about using the time during these next few months to make sure that I can do an accurate assessment, an accurate evaluation that unquestionably determines the needs of the service,” Williamson said.

To make this happen, the program must lock down the waveforms at the heart of the JTRS program. A firm set of standards will provide consistency and interoperability for industry, said Williamson.

Size, weight and power problems also led to the program’s cancellation. At the first Network Integration Evaluation held at the White Sands Missile Range in the spring of 2011, soldier feedback indicated that although the radio’s two channel capability was very useful, it took up too much space in cramped military vehicles, generated too much heat for a desert environment and used too much power.

The radios also took time to start up. Unlike current military radios that are operational in seconds from activation, the GMR took up to 10 minutes to start up as its security and communications systems came online.

Although DOD was contemplating canceling the program, it permitted development to continue until the base GMR unit received a National Security Agency security certification. This is important because these requirements will apply to any vendor provided radios, Williamson said. Although much of the technology for software defined radios can be bought from industry, key components such as security will be owned and managed by the government. “There are some things that we are not going to compromise on. And this is one of those areas” he said.

Although the program was canceled, Williamson does not view it as a failure, but rather as an evolution. “We invested heavily in the research and development associated with the waveforms and the hardware to run it. Now that we’ve made that investment, we believe that industry can now pick that up and bring us a capability a lot cheaper and potentially a lot faster,” he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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