April 11, 2006

Pentagon restructures software radio program

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Tuesday released a
long-awaited restructuring plan for a $30 billion program to
develop advanced military radios, saying it would pursue a more
incremental approach that was less risky.

Boeing Co., General Dynamics Corp., Thales SA and Rockwell
Collins Corp. are among companies with big stakes in the Joint
Tactical Radio System, which aims to develop new radios that
allow better communication among various parts of the U.S.

The new networked radios are seen as an essential part of
the U.S. Army's Future Combat System and the Pentagon's overall
effort to modernize how it fights wars.

"This new incremental strategy will allow JTRS to get
software-based radios to the war fighters as quickly as
possible," said a senior defense official, who asked not to be

In an acquisition decision memorandum released on Tuesday,
the Pentagon said it had simplified the overall structure of
the project to focus on three main areas -- ground-based radios
for vehicles and soldiers; airborne, maritime and fixed-site
radios; and networking solutions.

The Pentagon said it also approved the formal launch of an
industry competition to begin developing the airborne, maritime
and fixed radios under the program, as well as a separate
competition to develop a new "soldier radio waveform."

The program, meant to give the U.S. military a new
networked communications backbone, ran into delays due to the
Pentagon's too-ambitious goals for the project and industry's
reluctance to acknowledge problems, analysts said.

It was also poorly structured, with too little central
oversight until the Pentagon last spring appointed a senior
official to get the program back on track, they said.

"What happened here is that the technology enthusiasts got
far beyond what the laws of physics would allow," said Loren
Thompson at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute.

"The government has now determined that its original goals
were unrealistic and is scaling back the requirements and
increasing the amount of money for the program," he said.

Program spokesman Steven Davis had no immediate details on
the timing of the new competitions or the restructuring.

In the memorandum, which was first reported by Inside
Defense, Pentagon acquisition chief Kenneth Krieg said the JTRS
program office needed to continue its efforts to tighten
control over various parts of the program.

In a separate notice to Congress, the Pentagon said funding
for the part of JTRS formerly known as Cluster 1, for which
Boeing is the prime contractor, would by cut by $1.2 billion to
$20.5 billion, as a result of the restructuring.

No comment was immediately available from Boeing.

The cost of develop a new Wideband Networking Waveform
(WNW) for the overall program would increase by $465 million to
$1.79 billion, the Pentagon said.