JTRS Program to Continue After Restructuring
The USA’s troubled Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program was meant to be a centerpiece of US military transformation that would enable units to communicate seamlessly via equipment that would use software-defined electronics to “translate” different communications waveforms. JTRS was scheduled to be part of many new US systems, from updated MIDS/Link 16 terminals in aircraft to remote control of the NETFIRES “missile in a box” to a key role in the $100+ billion Future Combat Systems program. Etc. Etc. Instead, the program went through many tribulations.
The resulting technical difficulties were formidable, made more so by rising requirements demands from the US military. Eventually, the difficulties forced delays that affected combat commanders, led to rising costs, and finally created a breakdown. Boeing’s Cluster 1 program was put on notice for potential cancellation in April 2005, and subsequent reports have predicted that JTRS would be scaled back or even broken up entirely.
It now appears that the predictions of a scaled back restructuring were correct…
C4SI Journal reports that the JTRS program has been restructured to reduce costs and risks, creating a family of interoperable software radios that are less capable than originally planned, but more affordable and more deliverable thanks to an incremental acquisition strategy. This shift is reportedly expected to lower program risk from high to moderate, and to reduce development costs from $6 billion to about $4 billion.
Dennis Bauman, the JTRS Joint Program executive officer, said that Boeing had made “significant changes for the better” over the past 10 months since it was issued a show-cause over program issues that included cost controls, affordability of final product and relationships with subcontractors. In February 2006, the firm delivered initial Cluster 1 units to the Future Combat Systems program to assist with integration.
While JTRS is a radio family, its software-defined core means it is at heart an IT project. As such, it faces the same kinds of IT platform tradeoffs that are familiar to every organizational leader. JTRS’ original “big bang” acquisition strategy, using different “cluster teams” defined by similar user requirements, is attractive in that it creates a stable core technology that can be built upon later without a lot of rework and updates. The danger of that approach is that it may escalate up-front costs beyond an organization’s willingness or even ability to pay. As Bauman put it:
“You are moving from radio to a mobile, ad hoc networking capability. To realize that capability would cost about $6 billion of research and development, and at that point in time the budget was about $2.3 billion. So we were about $4 billion short.”
In contrast, an incremental IT architecture strategy has the advantage of allowing trial and experience to play more of a role in guiding one’s efforts. It delivers more useful functionality sooner, may help avoid serious foundation-level errors, and allows for the incorporation of newer technologies. On the other hand, it pretty much guarantees increased upgrade and rework costs and time penalties down the road, can increase overall maintenance costs for the final system, and may even leave one with a solution that can never scale to the levels required.
In the end, events forced their hand.
The JTRS Program has now abandoned the service-led clusters approach and moved to a Joint Program Executive Office, with 4 centrally managed domains:
- Ground: Includes the vehicle-mounted cluster 1 program led by Boeing, and also the former HMS(Handheld, Manpack & Small form-fit) program led by General Dynamics in partnership with Thales that was in Cluster 5.
- Airborne and Maritime: Includes both fixed (AMF) and MIDS-JTRS; formerly Clusters 3 & 4.
- Special: Formerly Cluster 2, covers upgrading the existing hand-held PRC-148 MBITR radio used by Special Operations Command, to JTRS Software Communications Architecture compliance.
- Network & Enterprise: Responsible for waveform development, cryptographic equipment applications, architectural integrity of JTRS, gateways and common network services.
Common requirements and hardware were hammered out, and the restructuring finally received a Defense Acquisition Memorandum signature from undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics Kenneth Krieg on March 31, 2006.
A February 2007 National Defense Magazine article added additional context, and put some numbers to the “scaled-back” description:
“The current program executive, Dennis M. Bauman, got a five-year $4 billion budget to complete JTRS development by 2009. But the scope of the project was reduced substantially. Instead of aiming for a network that could accommodate all 32 of the military’s radio waveforms, the revised JTRS will be limited to just nine. Also, JTRS radios would be compatible with 13 major weapon systems, rather than the 26 originally planned.
Bauman had estimated that it needed $6 billion for JTRS development, but the Pentagon agreed to fund $4 billion. Still, this was good news to program officials, Bauman told reporters last year, because it was appreciably more money than the $2.3 billion that was in the budget before he took over.”
A September 2006 GAO, report, meanwhile, approved of the restructuring but highlighted remaining risks:
“The real test will be in execution, and, for that, several management and technical challenges remain. First, JPEO must finalize the details of the restructuring, including formal acquisition strategies, independent cost estimates, and test and evaluation plans. DOD also needs to develop migration and fielding plans for how JTRS networking capabilities will be used. Completing and obtaining DOD’s approval of these activities is needed to ensure the JTRS program is executable. There are also a number of longer-term technical challenges that the JTRS program must address. For example, the proposed interim solutions for enabling network interoperability among different JTRS variants have yet to be developed. In addition, integrating the radio’s hardware onto diverse platforms and meeting respective size, weight, and power limitations has also been a longstanding challenge that must be overcome. Furthermore, operating in a networked environment open to a large number of potential users has generated an unprecedented need for information assurance. This need has resulted in a lengthy, technically challenging, and still evolving certification process from the National Security Agency. At the same time, the program must address the need to obtain and sustain commitments and support from the military services and other stakeholders–a challenge that has often hampered joint development efforts in the past. The extent to which DOD overcomes these challenges will determine the extent to which the program manages cost, schedule, and performance risks and supports JTRS-dependent military operations.”
There’s also this risk, which National Defense Magazine caught and the GAO only alluded to. It may be larger than all of the others combined:
“Army officials would like to have the advanced JTRS radios, but they have to wait so long to get them that they prefer to buy proven legacy technology or commercially developed software radios. But the more money that goes into these alternatives to JTRS, the less likely that the program will get off the ground.
The next sentence is also revealing, however, and indicates that basic needs will continue to push JTRS or something like it within the military services:
“Troops on the ground in Iraq, meanwhile, remain encumbered by the lack of radio interoperability between services – a problem that JTRS was expected to solve.”
- JPEO JTRS – Main Site
- JPEO JTRS – The JTRS Domains [PDF format]. This is the new structure.
- DID – JTRS: Airborne & Maritime Awards
- Military & Aerospace Electronics – Software-defined radio and JTRS.
- US Army – 2011 Posture Statement: JTRS
- US DoD, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation – 2010 Evaluation Reports: JTRS Ground Mobile Radio [PDF] | JTRS Handheld, Manpack, and Small form fit [PDF]
- Bloomberg (April 1/11) – U.S. Army May Cut More Than $100 Million From Boeing Program. JTRS GMR may move on to a different approach.
- JPEO JTRS (April 1/11) – JPEO JTRS Releases the Software Communication Architecture (SCA) Next Draft v188.8.131.52 Specification, Appendix C & Errata [PDF]
- Defense News (Jan 18/11) – DoD May Restructure JTRS Ground Radio Effort
- JPEO JTRS (Dec 2/10) – JPEO JTRS Releases the Software Communication Architecture (SCA) Next Draft Specification [PDF]
- NDIA National Defense (September 2010) – Army Under Pressure to Bring Broadband to the Battlefield. Discusses JTRS.
- C4ISR Journal (July 10/06) – “Restructuring Cuts Cost, Puts Radio Program Back on Track” for more information.
- National Defense Magazine (Feb 2007) – Delays in ‘joint tactical radio’ program cast doubts on future.
- US Government Accountability Office (#GAO-06-955, Sept 11/06) – Restructured JTRS Program Reduces Risk, but Significant Challenges Remain