By Dean ~ October 17th, 2011. Filed under: SDR & SCA.
These are truly interesting times for JTRS. Let’s review some of the more disruptive developments from the past few weeks. Perhaps we can even do a bit of reading between the lines.
According to a number of reports, including this one from Bloomberg:
“Boeing Co. (BA)’s largest U.S. Army radio program [GMR] was ended yesterday by the Defense Department because of rising costs, according to the Pentagon’s acting top weapons buyer.”
The article continues with a couple of choice jabs at the systems produced under GMR:
“Inadequate affordability analysis, a misunderstanding of the technical challenges due to immature technology and poor contractor and program performance all contributed to the cost growth, according to [Frank Kendall, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics].”
“Soldiers were concerned about the radio’s size and heat. That was their biggest issue.[Brigadier General Michael Williamson, Joint Program Executive Officer for the Joint Tactical Radio System]”
From my perspective, both of these are clear examples of straightforward, and humiliating, failures of systems engineering. As I’ve written previously (and here), proper execution of a performance engineering methodology would have allowed Boeing and the JPEO JTRS to completely avoid this embarrassing outcome. I don’t feel too bad for Boeing, though. They reportedly extracted roughly US$2B from the program while failing to manage both customer expectations and the delivery of a system that met its operational requirements.
US Army orders US$66.3M worth of Falcon III AN PRC-117G Radios from Harris
Moving on, we see that Harris RF Communications isn’t missing a beat. Despite being a member of the failed Boeing team, this group went outside the scope of GMR to develop the Falcon III line. The AN/PRC-117G put in a solid showing at the US Army’s recent Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), conducted at Ft. Bliss and the White Sands Missile Range. Harris is even getting favorable coverage from Wired.com’s Danger Room. The company announced last week that the U.S. Army has placed an order for US$66.3M worth of Falcon III AN/PRC-117G radios. With the success of the Falcon III AN/PRC-117G, we see that the DoD, and other agencies worldwide, are procuring proven technology based on solid engineering that matches the actual requirements for the device with the capabilities supported.
The Nett Warrior “Smartphone-like” End User Device (EUD)
I recently explored some of the concepts behind the Nett Warrior EUD, which careless reporters insist on calling a smartphone. It’s not, but it is a serious effort to bring situational awareness to the center of the fight with a GUI and form factor that is familiar to today’s soldiers.
General Dynamics C4 Systems Awarded US$65M contract to maintain the WNW
If I recall correctly, the WNW was originally closely linked to GMR:
“GMR — formerly Cluster 1, run by the Army, was to equip Marine and Army ground vehicles, Air Force Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs), and Army helicopters. Cluster 1 also included the development of a Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW), a next-generation Internet protocol (IP)-based waveform designed to allow mobile ad-hoc networking (MANET).”
The latest WNW news strongly suggests that the responsibility for maintenance of, and enhancements to, the waveform has been transitioned to GDC4S under the Wideband Networking Waveform Software In-Service Support (WNW SWiSS) contract. This seems to indicate that GDC4S is being recognized for their success with SRW and the Rifleman Radio. Again, the JPEO is putting its faith in vendors that have delivered proven technology.
May you live in interesting times…
So, what does this all mean? From where I sit, these developments are all extremely encouraging. Although it was a US$2B lesson, I believe that the JPEO has learned that it cannot just throw big piles of money at defense contractors and hope that the right thing happens. Instead, I’m optimistic that the program’s leadership will focus on deploying proven technology and properly scaling requirements for specific nodes in the network. This more pragmatic, and (hopefully) performance engineering based approach, should allow the program to deliver on its fundamental goals of improved situational awareness at the tip of the spear and a more comprehensive view of battlefield dynamics across all levels of the chain of command.
Let’s all remember why we do this.