The Defense Department’s ambitious plans to replace every military radio
with a single radio system are being dampened somewhat by the difficulties in
coordination among the services and the sheer scope of the project.
To expedite the transition from single-service radios to a new joint radio
system, the Pentagon is considering putting in place an entirely new management
structure for the joint tactical radio system (JTRS) program.
The system is a potentially $14 billion program to replace 250,000 single-service
radios throughout the military services. It is viewed as a linchpin of the Defense
Department’s plan to make all weapon systems interoperable and to link
forces deployed around the world into a single network. Unlike existing radios,
JTRS are software-defined PC-like devices that can be programmed to operate
As it stands today, a joint program office—reporting to the Army’s
acquisition executive—is responsible for the software development. The
hardware side of the program is divided into “clusters.” The Army
manages cluster 1 (helicopter and ground vehicle radios) and cluster 5 (handheld
and miniature radios), the Special Operations Command runs cluster 2 (handheld
radios), the Navy and the Air Force jointly oversee clusters 3 and 4 (airborne
and maritime radios).
Each service manages the hardware development and allocates procurement funds
for each cluster.
The current JTRS organization is too fragmented, and not best suited to facilitate
the changeover from older “legacy” radios to the new technology,
as well as too dependent on individual services’ funding priorities, according
to the General Accounting Office.
The GAO critique got the attention of senior Pentagon officials, who are taking
steps to restructure the program office. By late 2004, the entire JTRS effort
could transfer to a joint program executive office that would manage both the
software and the hardware development and procurement.
Details of the new JPEO so far are sketchy. The Defense Department submitted
a proposed reorganization plan to Congress earlier this year. The implementation
could begin in late 2004, according to Michael S. Frankel, deputy assistant
secretary of defense for C3, space and information technology programs.
Frankel said he agreed with GAO’s conclusion that “the most significant
challenge in JTRS is the lack of a strong, joint-management structure.”
The plan now under review is to consolidate all research, development, test
and evaluation funding for JTRS, but “procurement and integration funding
is best left in the individual service budgets,” said Frankel. He does
not support GAO’s recommendation that the procurement funds from each
service be combined under a single JTRS account.
Military and industry insiders said the JTRS is under enormous pressure from
senior Pentagon officials, who don’t want to see the program drag, and
slow down the process of making the services more “net-centric.”
Frankel agreed that the Office of the Defense Secretary would like to see JTRS
accelerated, but that he is aware of the limitations the program faces, particularly
the price tags of the new radios and the cost of integrating them into older
“I have to be a pragmatist about it,” he told National Defense.
“OSD’s perspective is that accelerating those processes is desirable
to have a net-centric joint force. … That enthusiasm has to be toned by
the realities of funding and difficulties in cycling the platforms through the
upgrades or maintenance processes.”
The advantage of having a new joint PEO is that a single manager would be able
to make funding “trades” between the different JTRS clusters, to
make sure that they all proceed on schedule. Frankel declined to offer details
on who may be selected to become the JTRS acquisition executive. “That
discussion will unfold at the OSD level,” he said. “Whichever acquisition
executive is chosen, the rest of the acquisition executives from each service
will form an advisory council.”
Difficulties in securing service funds for JTRS exemplify the classic dilemma
that plagues many defense programs: The development of new technology requires
money now, but the payoff will not materialize for many years. Meanwhile, the
services need to pay for equipment they need today, taking dollars from next-generation
programs. “That’s an interesting discussion you always have when
you are trying to do a transition: how much of the new can you afford vs. how
much of the old you have to buy, because forces are getting deployed,”
Frankel said. “That’s a real issue.”
He said the JPEO would not necessarily accelerate deliveries, but would at
least ensure the R&D investments are shared across all clusters. The discussion
about “resource allocation” will happen across the clusters, whereas
today they are cluster-specific.
Individual service program managers declined to comment on the record on their
views on the reorganization. One of their biggest concerns is the ability of
the JPEO to move funds from one cluster to another, possibly undermining one
service’s program at the expense of another, and turning the program into
a “grab for funds for other projects.”
One source suggested that whoever takes over as JTRS acquisition executive
will have to develop safeguards to “protect the integrity” of each
cluster. “As long as the integrity of programs is protected, the consolidation
could be a good thing.”
The reorganization of the JTRS program office also was the topic of a recent
OSD-sponsored study titled, “Scalable Global and Battlefield Communications
The study concluded that JTRS lacks joint systems engineering and integration
oversight, and has failed to define a joint concept of operations.
The “cluster” approach is too closely aligned with individual services
and their own radio-replacement needs, said Virginia Wiggins, the study director.
A program such as the Army Future Combat Systems, for example, likely will employ
every cluster of JTRS. The FCS program manager would have to deal with each
service, rather than a single JTRS procurement office. A better approach would
be to have a joint organization to manage all JTRS product lines, Wiggins said
in a presentation to the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.
The OSD study estimated that, at the current pace, 70 percent of all JTRS radios
could be fielded by 2022.
Asked about the study findings, Frankel said he questioned the “fundamental
assumptions” many of which are based on modeling and simulation, rather
than factual data.