GAO sees flaws in radio project

Lack of a strong management structure hampers the military's Joint Tactical Radio System, according to the General Accounting Office.

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The Defense Department has made progress in developing the multibillion-dollar Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), but the lack of a strong management structure hampers the program, the General Accounting Office said in a letter sent this week to congressional leaders.

The new tactical radios can be programmed for any waveform, making them more flexible than current radios, which are limited to specific frequency ranges that differ for each military branch. Production for the new units is expected in 2005, according to the prime contractor, Boeing Co.

Current JTRS management includes not only a Joint Program Office — which brings together the services' individual efforts on software-defined radios — but also program clusters for each service and other military organizations doing related acquisition activities. Such a "fragmented" bureaucracy makes it hard to reconcile the needs of different military services and slows the "production of key program documents," according to a GAO letter sent Monday.

That has resulted in delays of more than a year for several projects, including new handheld radios, GAO officials said. "In the meantime, the Army has purchased more existing radios with fewer communications capabilities, which may further delay the delivery of JTRS capabilities to users," wrote GAO auditors, who reviewed the radio program from October 2002 to April 2003.

GAO recommended that the Secretary of Defense strengthen the joint-program management structure of JTRS by establishing centralized program funding, realigning the Joint Program Office under a different organizational arrangement, and placing the cluster development programs under Joint Program Office control.

Michael Frankel, deputy assistant secretary of defense (C3, space and information technology programs), agreed with all GAO's recommendations except the consolidation of procurement and integration funding. In a July 29 letter, Frankel wrote that those budget elements are best left to the individual services.

GAO officials also found that the initial batch of new radios for helicopters and ground vehicles were developed at first with "technology readiness levels lower than those recommended by best practices." Other technologies — such as miniaturized components, batteries and multimodal antennas — will take several years to mature.

The accounting office found considerable progress in planning and development through the radio project's Joint Program Office. JTRS officials have developed a standard architecture that provides the foundation for building radios and creating an open systems approach for future technology. And the program office reduced risk by using an "evolutionary" approach that adds new communications features gradually, the GAO report said.

Total program expenses have yet to be determined, but the Army's effort to produce about half of the necessary 250,000 JTRS radios is expected to cost $14.4 billion.

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