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Defense radio program not fully tested, GAO reports

The Defense Department's program to develop advanced radios to connect soldiers over a vast network has lagged because of a lack of security certifications and technologies that are fully developed and ready to use, according to a report released on March 31 by the Government Accountability Office.

Comment on this article in The Forum.GAO reviewed ground mobile radios, which are part of Defense's Joint Tactical Radio System program, which it launched in 1997. They are part of a family of software-based radios that will replace hundreds of incompatible types of radios. GAO reported that 12 of the 20 technologies that make up the radios are mature, five are approaching maturity and three are not expected to mature until a production qualification test in 2009.

The ground radio program, which Boeing Co. is developing, has not received security certification from the National Security Agency, GAO reported, and has demonstrated only limited networking capabilities. But, the agency added, the radio design was "nearly stable" and the JTRS program office expected to have fully functioning prototypes early in fiscal 2009.

Defense has made progress in developing the radio's wideband network capabilities, GAO said, but tests so far have used a network of only two to six nodes and key networking functions have yet to be demonstrated.

The ground radios are essential to supporting network operations for the Army's massive Future Combat Systems program. The network is supposed to connect manned and unmanned ground and air vehicles, sensor systems, and military commanders in a complex network. FCS capabilities are "heavily dependent on wide availability and performance of the network," GAO said in a March 7 report.

Last week Boeing and the Army demonstrated for the first time that the software-defined ground radios can receive data from ground sensors and pass the data to nearby vehicles equipped with the Future Combat Systems network integration system. Mike Fanelli, a Boeing spokesman, said he assumed that the GAO report was researched and written in September 2007 and ground radio technologies have evolved since then.

NSA certification for another family of JTRS radios -- the Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit-- also presents problems, GAO concluded. Thales Communications Inc. and Harris Corp. won contracts valued at $3.5 billon and $2.7 billion respectively in June 2007 to develop and supply those radios.

Developing multiple levels of security for the Small Form Fit radios was problematic, GAO reported, because waveform software is being developed at the same time security requirements are evolving.

The Army managed JTRS until early 2005, when cost overruns and schedule delays resulted in Defense transferring control of the project to a new Joint Program Executive Office at the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego.

GAO said the Army fully tested the technology for at least one line of radios. Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing competed for the contract for the Airborne, Maritime and Fixed Station radios, and demonstrated the technologies the companies planned to use. An independent Army assessment of the radios (the Navy now runs the JTRS program) determined that "all critical technologies have been demonstrated in a relevant environment," and the service "expected to enter system development with all critical technologies approaching full maturity," GAO noted.

Defense awarded the $766.2 million fixed station radio contract to Lockheed Martin on March 28. John Mengucci, president of mission and combat support solutions for Lockheed's information systems and global services division, said the company will provide radios that will be in 160 platforms, including fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, ships, submarines and fixed stations worldwide.

The Pentagon said the radios will be used in Army Apache, CH-47 and Blackhawk helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, C-130 cargo aircraft, Marine Corps helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft; Navy aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, as well as Air Force fixed and deployable ground command-and-control systems. The contract includes an option for low-rate initial production of 45 Maritime and Fixed stations sets and 104 small airborne sets.

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