Less Ambitious Goals Ahead for JTRS?
The August 2005 issue of National Defense Magazine reports that the Pentagon’s $20 billion JTRS program to develop a family of digital combat radios is expected to see substantial changes in scope and technical requirements. The focus of the program would reportedly shift from replacing current radios to developing advanced networking technology that could be applied to existing devices.
JTRS, conceived in the late 1990s, was intended to eventually supplant more than 750,000 radios in the current US military inventory. Unlike conventional radios, JTRS devices are programmable and designed to operate a variety of radio “waveforms.” Key struggles for the program have included…
- The close ties between JTRS and the Army’s largest ever procurement effort, the Future Combat Systems (FCS). This complicated JTRS technical efforts by demanding more advanced networking features and increased bandwidth. It also created political complications when JTRS Clusters 1 and 5 (the Army’s clusters) fell behind, and the Army moved to prevent the $120+ billion FCS program from being compromised.
- Compatibility with legacy radios remains one of the toughest challenges. JTRS originally was intended to sync up incompatible legacy radios by converting the signal in a process known as “cross-banding.” That requirement had to be watered down because it was technologically too complex, and the favored approach now is to rely on the “wideband networking waveform” to link the legacy frequencies as well as providing FCS compatibitily.
- Encryption. Security is implemented differently in each legacy radio, and merging these is one of the most complex tasks in JTRS. DID’s previous reports on JTRS have also noted that the NSA has been somewhat slow in this area.
- JTRS is also hampered by a more fundamental technology shortfall: a dependence on semiconductor-based radio devices, which limit the conversion of analog radio frequency energy to digital data.
While JTRS program executive officer Dennis M. Bauman was unavailable to comment, National Defense Magazine reports predictions from government and industry sources that JTRS will continue, but that the services will dumb down the performance specifications and focus more on developing mobile network technology like the “wideband network waveform” for implementation on existing software-programmable radios like the DMR series rather than on replacing radios.
Boeing, which also is the prime contractor for JTRS cluster 1, is expected to deliver 40 JTRS prototypes and the wideband waveform software in January 2006.