House Committees Paying Close Attention to Communications
Department of Defense IT officials requested $7.4 billion for command, control, communications and computer systems in FY 2006 – a $1 billion increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, legislators are pushing for faster standardization; many think troops could better communicate and access intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan if they consolidated their communications systems.
“The subcommittee is interested to learn why DOD has so many different tactical information technology systems performing similar, if not, the same functionality,” said Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, during a March 3 hearing.
At the same time, the Defense Department’s CIO assured congressional leaders that combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be frustrated by a Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program policy that prohibits the services from buying existing radio systems without a waiver from the JTRS Joint Program Office. JTRS has not fielded deployable hardware since the program was started in 2001, forcing units to obtain waivers to buy radios urgently needed for combat requirements. The waiver process has resulted in some combat units going around the program office and the military procurement systems by buying commercial two-way radios online or at the local Radio Shack before they deploy.
The services are on pace this year to match or exceed the $500 million spent on tactical radios in 2004, with two contracts totaling $105 million awarded in the first two months of 2005. Those awards include a $75 million Marine Corps contract awarded last month to Thales Communications for its AN/PRC-148 squad radio and a $30 million Army contract with Harris for that company’s AN/PRC-150 high-frequency, single-sideband radio. The DOD 2005 supplemental spending bill passed March 3 includes $186.5 million in funding for purchasing tactical radios this year. These contracts are dwarfed by a $2.5 billion, seven-year contract awarded ITT in December 2004 for Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System radios, which the Army and Marine Corps use as primary tactical radios.
Overall, Pentagon IT officials requested $10.7 billion for defense agencies, $7.1 billion for the Air Force, $6.2 billion for the Navy and $6.1 billion for the Army. The $30.1 billion for FY 2006 represents a $2.9 billion increase from the $27.2 billion requested in FY 2005, and a $1.4 billion increase from FY 2004’s $28.7 billion. Warfighting IT systems and tactical and command and control systems are said to account for most of the increase. Federal Computer Week: Defense Tech Debated