Transformational Radio Program Moves Ahead

July 2007
By Henry S. Kenyon

The goal of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program is to replace all of the services’ legacy radios with a family of software programmable radios capable of operating on many frequencies to enhance military interoperability.
After a major reconfiguration, systems ready for final tests, initial production.

The U.S. Defense Department’s ambitious effort to develop and field a family of multipurpose software-defined radios is beginning to make progress after numerous setbacks. The Joint Tactical Radio System program’s goal is to replace the services’ myriad radios with equipment designed for joint interoperability. The project is back on track after cost overruns and a lack of oversight in key areas drew government criticism and forced it to undergo a major reorganization in March 2006.

Program officials explain that the reorganization included changes in the way business is conducted and technological developments are managed (SIGNAL Connections, May 2006). According to Howard Pace, deputy joint program executive officer, Joint Program Executive Office, Joint Tactical Radio System (JPEO JTRS), San Diego, the program has focused on three goals since it was restructured: risk management, program execution, and product interoperability and security.

For risk management, a key tenet is to control risk across the enterprise. This stewardship applies to the JTRS product lines and internal organizational efforts with personnel, manpower and infrastructure.

By determining the appropriate risk level for each of the program’s systems, the JPEO seeks to develop and produce JTRS capabilities while managing cost, schedule and performance issues, Pace says. The ultimate goal for the executive office is meeting warfighter needs by developing a secure and interoperable system. “This [capability] is critical to providing a truly interoperable mobile ad hoc networking capability that is effectively protected,” he maintains.

A major part of the restructuring effort was the launching of the JTRS enterprise business model (EBM) in July 2006. The EBM is designed to make the program governance process more efficient by streamlining many management steps while maintaining oversight and transparency.

The model also moves the program away from a closed, proprietary business model to a more open environment. Pace notes that this shift includes obtaining government rights for all of the software and waveforms and maintaining data in a common JTRS information repository. By following the EBM, he says, the JPEO expects to maximize technology reuse and cut development costs for new software and upgrades. Approximately four million lines of code have been stored in the repository as of May. The information repository enables configuration management and control of software objects, and it permits quality assessments of products before they are posted for downloading by authorized users, he observes.

A final principle of the EBM is to maximize competition and increase industry accountability. Pace states that the goals are cost savings and interoperability, especially when the JTRS subprograms move into production. He adds that the JPEO is ensuring that all of its contracts are “backloaded” to provide the maximum incentive for vendors to deliver solutions within budget, schedule and performance parameters.

Manportable JTRS equipment is scheduled for initial production and fielding in 2009. The new handheld, manpack and small form fit radios will allow warfighters to use one multipurpose radio to communicate with ground and air units instead of the several separate systems that currently are in service.
In March a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that the JPEO JTRS was making progress but that technical challenges and risks remained. The report indicated that the restructured program was allowing more time to mature critical technologies, integrate components and test radio systems before moving to production. Pace notes that the program achieved this through an incremental approach that defers developing the system’s more challenging requirement to later increments.

After the program was reorganized, the JPEO JTRS began implementing new roles and responsibilities to define authority and program requirements. Among the changes was signing and implementing JTRS terms of reference, which strengthened and centralized the JPEO’s responsibilities to oversee the initiative. JTRS also was selected as a pilot program for a new governance process for joint programs.

Major modifications to the traditional program governance process were incorporated to accelerate the fielding of radios to users. Pace explains that JTRS streamlined a two-tiered decision-making strategy that involved a JTRS executive council and a board of directors with members from the requirements, funding and acquisitions communities.

Originally structured around five operational clusters, the JTRS program regrouped these development efforts into four domains: ground, handheld, airborne and maritime, and network enterprises. Perhaps the most troubled of the various JTRS subprograms was Cluster 1, now the ground domain. Originally slated to provide radios for both ground vehicles and helicopters, the program was restructured several times. In its latest version, the ground mobile radio (GMR) domain supports systems mounted on trucks and fighting vehicles.

In April the GMR component underwent a demonstration at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The event included a live GMR transmission, a static display of the radios and legacy equipment, and an overview from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capabilities manager. Pace notes that a key part of this event was the live demonstration of the GMR from a simulated tactical operations center.

The JTRS GMR was mounted on a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) for this demonstration, and the equipment associated with the radio—speakers, microphones and laptop computers—was linked to the operations center. Two other HMMWV-mounted GMRs were located some 10 kilometers from the operations center, while a fourth GMR was set up in a building 2.1 kilometers away. The scenario focused on using voice channels for communications on the command and operations network and the intelligence network.

The demonstration featured a nine-node network with four nodes configured with a four-channel JTRS GMR unit. Each radio was configured with the wideband network waveform (WNW), the enhanced position location reporting system (EPLRS) and single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS) waveforms. The WNW and SINCGARS were operated in an unclassified mode, while the EPLRS ran in a cryptographic data mode to demonstrate the multiple single layers of security capability.

Throughout the event, the GMRs conducted simultaneous operations with the WNW, SINCGARS and EPLRS waveforms. Pace notes that the GMR SINCGARS command and operations network and intelligence network were demonstrated individually and simultaneously. Two of the four GMRs were reconfigured during the event by the addition of a second SINCGARS waveform. The EPLRS channel provided connectivity to the EPLRS data network. He says this capability was a joint endeavor because two of the nine nodes were legacy EPLRS units mounted on U.S. Marine Corps vehicles, while the rest were installed on Army vehicles.

Pace explains that the demonstration proved the GMR’s ability to send and receive graphics from other EPLRS radios. The event also highlighted the radio’s capacity for supporting the EPLRS network manager without a current force radio. The use of the WNW for text messaging, video and whiteboarding further displayed the GMR’s capabilities. He adds that the mobile ad hoc networking capability was shown by two vehicle-mounted radios streaming video, whiteboard and text message applications.

Prior to the April event, Pace notes, the four-channel GMR successfully had completed laboratory tests. The radio demonstrated the ability to operate the EPLRS, the WNW, SINCGARS and voice and data simultaneously. Following the laboratory tests, a field experiment validated the GMR’s increased waveform and networking functionality. He says that the GMR program office delivered the last of 50 prototypes to the Future Combat Systems (FCS) project. The program office continues to support FCS and is coordinating with the initiative for a limited user test.

As part of the program’s ground domain, the JTRS Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) program office is developing a variety of radios, some weighing as little as 5 ounces, that will be embedded in many platforms to create battlefield networks. The JTRS HMS sets are designed specifically to connect the last tactical mile with command and control elements at higher echelons. This connectivity will create a real-time common operating picture for warfighters throughout the battlespace.

The JTRS HMS features a software programmable architecture that allows new waveforms and upgrades to be loaded via radio transmissions. Pace explains that the ability to upgrade waveforms and other programs in the field rapidly is part of the U.S. Army’s transformation vision and the Defense Department’s Joint Vision 2020 initiative. The JTRS HMS effort currently is undergoing contractor development testing, with fielding scheduled to begin in the 2009 fiscal year.

Another part of the overall JTRS program is the development of the Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS). Pace says that the MIDS program is approaching another milestone. Personnel released a request for proposal for Phase 2D of the tactical targeting network technology in March. The MIDS project recently completed a critical design review and received a National Security Agency (NSA) concurrence letter. He adds that MIDS/Link 16 also completed the requirements of the NSA technical review board, which is a significant step toward NSA certification.

Pace notes that the major method for reducing the programs’ collective risk was developing a close working relationship with the NSA. This cooperation includes technical interchange meetings, weekly teleconferences to discuss design and security issues, quarterly program management reviews and a quarterly summit to synchronize JTRS efforts with the FCS program.

The JTRS program’s network enterprise domain effort delivered version 2.0 of the WNW in January. Version 2.1 of the Soldier-Level Integrated Communications Environment waveform also successfully completed technical field testing. Pace explains that independent testers ran the evaluations in an operationally realistic environment at the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance testbed at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

The JPEO JTRS also released a request for proposal for the single channel handheld radio in March. Pace says that the JPEO intends to award contracts that can consolidate service and U.S. Southern Command requests for JTRS-approved handheld radios. He explains that the goal of combining these contracts is to reduce unit costs because the services and the command will not have to issue separate contracts in smaller lot sizes.

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