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Radio System Contract Sets Evolutionary Path
The Air Force Joint Tactical Radio System Program Office recently awarded the
first Department of Defense contract for a JTRS handheld radio.
By Chuck Paone / Electronic Systems Center Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass., Sept. 25, 2006 – The Air Force Joint Tactical Radio System Program Office, part of the Electronic Systems Center’s Airborne Network Management Division, recently awarded the first Department of Defense contract for a JTRS radio.

The $7.6 million JTRS Handheld radio contract awarded through competitive bid to Thales Communications Corp. is considered an “interim solution,” said Capt. Michael Broadaway, Air Force JTRS program manager. The future iteration of this radio will comply with the full JTRS Operational Requirements Document.

This award, however, is putting “the first iteration” of a JTRS radio in the hands of U.S. warfighters now and is meeting their near-term needs, he said.

“This purchase is the first JTRS radio buy within the Department of Defense,” said Col. Anita Latin, commander of the 653d Electronic Systems Group, which oversees the Airborne Network Management Division.

“This is a historical moment for the Air Force, because it provides an immediate capability increase while moving us along an evolutionary path toward the ultimate JTRS solution,” she noted.

The JTRS radios envisioned by the Department of Defense, expected to begin coming on line in the 2011 or 12 timeframe, are based on software development that enables one radio to handle various waveforms, said Charlie Dancy of the MITRE Corp., the team’s engineering lead. This will allow an unprecedented cross-flow of information with a lot less hardware.

For the soldier – or tactical air control party member – on the ground, as well as for platform managers dealing with space constraints, there are obvious benefits to no longer needing multiple radios.

The greatest benefit, though, will be the increase in warfighting efficiency, where easier and better inter-service communication can make all the difference.

Current radio systems lack interoperability across the spectrum and have insufficient bandwidth to meet all current and anticipated future communications needs.

This initial procurement provides immediate relief to the warfighters in Afghanistan and Iraq who are currently borrowing radios from the Army to communicate with U.S. soldiers.

The ultimate JTRS solution is a family of all-service radios and a new wideband networked waveform that can provide mobile, networked connectivity.

Another key, according to Dancy, is that the new, ‘software-defined’ radios will be “backward-compatible;” that is, compatible with the current waveforms in use today.

“This award is just the tip of the iceberg of a $2.9 billion Air Force JTRS procurement effort,” Broadaway said.

The radios will be used by Air Force Special Operations Command operators, Security Forces and Civil Engineers.

See caption.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Brandon Shofne radios back to his headquarters descriptions of the ordnance found during a weapon cache sweep in Kharma, Iraq, last December. Shofne, who is attached to the USMC's 2nd Combat Engineers Battalion, is using a legacy radio. The JTRS radios recently purchased by the Electronic Systems Center team will provide upgraded capability. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Hutchison

They will also be used within Air Operations Centers, Distributed Common Ground System facilities and other command and control centers. 

The Electronic Systems Center team worked with the Air Force Command, Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center at Langley Air Force Base, Va., as well as the major handheld radio users expected to benefit from this purchase, to coordinate and help establish the requirements, said Steve Briggs, a senior program support specialist for Air Force JTRS.

The Air Force Command, Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center is responsible for establishing Air Force command and control requirements, and by working jointly with that center, the Electronic Systems Center team was able to put together a request for proposals that clearly stated customer needs. 

Due to multiple bidders and the competitive bidding process, the team was able to save an estimated $2.7 million versus original projections. 

These savings allowed the team to call for bids to purchase an additional 400 radios, Cole said.  In all, the team will purchase 1,675 radios this year, and an additional 10,000 next year. 

“This is a great step forward,” Broadaway said.  “This streamlined, competitive procurement – wherein we awarded the contract within 30 days of receiving vendor quotes – puts capability in the users’ hands quickly and establishes a path for future JTRS radio purchases.”
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