Many in the U.S. Department of
Defense are fed up with the delays in getting the multi-billion dollar JTRS
(Joint Tactical Radio System) into production. The troops need digital (for
computer stuff) and analog (traditional radio) communications in one box now,
and it has to be programmable, in order to handle new applications. That's what
JTRS was supposed to do, but it isn't happening. Meanwhile, the war on terror
has given the U.S. Army a chance to buy new radio technology they need, and
they are doing it. Since the invasion of Iraq, the army and marines have spent
over two billion dollars on new handled and backpack radios, to tie the
infantry into a battlefield Internet. Another two billion dollars was spent on
larger radio sets, for the army and the air force. This is more than four times
what the Department of Defense spent on new radios in the three years before
September 11, 2001. Back then, everyone was holding off on buying new radios,
because JTRS was to be available in 2007. Well here it is, 2007, and no JTRS in
sight. How did this happen?
There are many problems getting all the services to
agree on "Joint" standards. Typical are the problems with the software. The
Department of Defense insisted that manufacturers use specific software tools
and supporting software for JTRS work. Rather than just tell manufacturers to,
"make it work.," the Pentagon bureaucrats insisted on getting into the details.
This has backfired, as it usually does when bureaucrats do that sort of thing.
It has happened before. In the 1970s, when the Pentagon tried to force defense
contractors to use a new software language, ADA, for all military related work,
much confusion and missed deadlines ensued.
The Pentagon is very reluctant to admit error, or
defeat, in these matters. Much better to spend billions more and let the needed
equipment arrive late, and missing important capabilities. It's something of a
tradition. And you know how some people in the military, even Pentagon
civilians, can be about tradition.
the military has taken the JTRS concept, and had radio manufacturers
take commercial designs and adapt it, quickly, for military use. An example of
this is a recent purchase, by SOCOM (Special Operations Command) of over $400
million worth of AN/PRC-150 radios. They will be delivered over the next five
years, and cost about $2,500 each. The ten pound (without batteries) radios are
very flexible (are used in vehicles or backpacks), and are able to use several
different types of transmission (including bouncing signals off the ionosphere,
for longer range, or just to get a signal out of a built up area.) Digital
transmissions allow for data to get through under poor atmospheric conditions,
or when in a built up area. The radios also have good encryption, and the
ability to send and receive all forms of digital data. These radios are also
used by the army. This buy indicates that SOCOM doesn't expect the long awaited
JTRS to arrive any time soon.
JTRS is behind schedule, over budget and under
review. The customers have already decided that JTRS is not the future.
Originally, the services pledged to buy nearly half a million of JTRS radios.
Those orders have now fallen to about 148,000, and may go to zero. All that
will remain will be the basic JTRS idea, talked to death by the committees that
were supposed to make it happen. The two billion dollars of JTRS R&D is
largely wasted, but because of the war, the radios got developed anyway, under
realistic conditions, and largely outside the JTRS bureaucracy. It's a battle
that was largely unreported, but at least the good guys won.