WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M.—The family of Joint Tactical Radio Systems (JTRS) has been under the gun for several years due to their spotty track record and Nunn-McCurdy breach slapped on the Boeing-built Ground Mobile Radio (GMR), a four-channel voice and data radio. The GMR stumbled over the Nunn-McCurdy tripwire in May when the program's unit cost had grown by more than 50 percent, due in part to the Army cutting its order from 86,209 to 10,293 units. The GMR also suffered a 72 percent failure rate in tests here last June, leading the Pentagon to issue a request in information for possible replacements in April for a buy of anywhere from 10,000 and 25,000 commercial radios.
Part of the Army’s six-week Network Evaluation Exercise placed three experimental Caiman MRAP command vehicles at the company level, equipping each with the Network Integration Kit, which the Army has previously said is a “bridge capability” toward its eventual battlefield network. The vehicles have four workstations that allow the commander to view and interact with other commanders in the brigade, as well as providing access to streaming video from UAVs or soldiers in the field.
While 2nd Brigade commander Col. Daniel Pinnell is a big fan of the truck, some of his soldiers have had problems with the GMR radios they contain. Capt. Kevin DeWitt, commander of Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment said that while the wideband networking waveform that the radio uses has worked well, the GMR sucks the MRAP’s battery dry in less than an hour unless it remains idling. He said that he would prefer a radio system that didn’t use as much power.
Problems like this are exactly why the Army is throwing all this gear out into the desert for six weeks, and Army officials say that one of the big ambitions of the NIE is to make sure that no technology is ever again sent to theater that hasn’t already been integrated into the theater network, leaving battlefield commanders the task of figuring out how to use new communications gear that his sent his way—as happens today. With that in mind, the Army’s Paul Mehney said that the Army has replicated the network being used in Afghanistan and is running all of its communications gear through it to stress both the systems as well as the network.
Results from the six week tests won’t be written up until later this summer, and it likely won’t be until the fall that official results are briefed, staffers say. One good, early sign is that amid the flood of Congressional delegations and Army and Pentagon brass that has filtered through the test area, a visiting delegation from the Government Accountability Office said that they didn’t find anything that concerned them enough to write about, according to one Army official. The service won’t divulge how much the entire exercise costs, saying only that the price tag falls anywhere between “$1 and $100 million,” but that the cost changes day to day.