Defense should stop buying obsolete radios

Science boards say continued acquisition of legacy systems threatens development of advanced radios that all four services can use to download intelligence data and videos.

Two defense science boards called for the Pentagon to restrict the purchase of radios that are not part of a program developing an advanced radio that all four services will use to communicate, according to a joint report released on Dec. 15.

In a report released on Dec. 15, the Defense Science Board and Intelligence Science Board called for the services to avoid purchasing radios that are not part of the Joint Tactical Radio System. The new radios are essential to sending information provided by unmanned aerial vehicles such as full-motion video and intelligence from spy satellites to warfighters on the battlefield.

The JTRS program "is threatened by unabated, continued procurement of legacy radios," the science boards reported. "This practice suppresses the real requirement for JTRS capability and radio, and could result in higher unit costs."

The Defense Department kicked off its JTRS program in 1997 with the intention to deploy radios that used software to operate on multiple frequencies and bands rather than hardware radios configured to operate on separate frequencies. Defense planned to deploy those radios in 2003, but delays in development and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq forced the services to buy older radios. In 2005, the services dropped a strict policy that required them to obtain a waiver before acquiring the legacy radios.

The report recommended that Defense reinstitute its strict waiver policy on acquisition of non-JTRS radios, which would allow the purchase of legacy radios only by exception. This policy would eliminate the development of additional radios and accelerate the deployment of JTRS and meet operational requirements better, according to the report.

In August, the Government Accountability Office estimated that Defense had spent $5.7 billion since 2003 acquiring legacy radios, such as the VHF single channel ground and airborne radio system, which serve as the standard radio that ground tactical units use.

The report also called for full funding and rapid deployment of the Transformational Communication Satellite system to facilitate the transmission of sensor information.

Ben Rand, a spokesman for Harris Corp., which is the largest supplier of radios to Defense, said the company "has developed a portfolio of products to serve both legacy and JTRS-approved requirements. We look forward to continuing to deliver these products to the warfighter in support of the Department of Defense and its missions."