Electronic Weapons: October 8, 2003


The Department of Defense has about 750,000 radios. Not all of these radios can talk to each other because of technical differences. For over a decade, the proposed solution has been to buy radios that are configured via internal software (much like a personal computer). While radios come with different capabilities (frequencies and power) depending on where and how they are used, with a common software configuration capability, many more radios could be quickly reconfigured (via punching in a code for a new frequency, security and whatever setting) to talk to another type of radio. The Department of Defense is planning to spend over $3 billion to replace the current 750,000 radios with fewer than half a million JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio System) radios. Some services are more enthusiastic about this than others. The army is really hot on the idea, while the air force is somewhat reluctant. This despite the fact that the air force uses 124 different types of radios. On some of their command and control aircraft, like the AWACS, there are currently 30 radios, weighing 1500 pounds. Using JTRS radios, only four would be needed, with a total weight of 875 pounds. But the air force is concerned about the time, technical problems and cost of replacing radios in aircraft. Unlike ground vehicles, or ships, radios are more tightly integrated into the aircraft that carries them. Thus it is more expensive and time consuming to put a new one into an aircraft. But the army is particularly keen on getting JTRS radios in all of its helicopters, and all air force aircraft, to eliminate communications problems going back over four decades. Before then, the air force belonged to the army, but once the air force became a separate service, radio commonality with the army was no longer a priority. The air force does have some unique problems. It just installed a new generation of radios, which allow for such things as satellite communications. Typically, it costs a lot more to install the radio equipment in a jet fighter than the radio itself cost. Switching over to JTRS in the next few years will cost the air force several hundred million dollars, and will help the other services more than the air force. Despite that, the air force is being leaned on to stick with the program, being told that the long term benefits outweigh any short term costs.




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