Challenges and Risks Associated with the Joint Tactical Radio System Program

GAO-03-879R: Published: Aug 11, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 11, 2003.

Additional Materials:


Paul L. Francis
(202) 512-2811


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

The recent emergence of software-defined radio technology offers the potential to address key communications shortfalls and significantly improve military capabilities. The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program was initiated in 1997 to develop and apply this technology and to bring together separate service-led programs into a joint software-defined radio development effort. JTRS radios are intended to interoperate with existing radio systems and provide the war fighter with additional communications capability to access maps and other visual data, communicate via voice and video with other units and levels of command, and obtain information directly from battlefield sensors. As such, the JTRS program is considered a major transformational effort for the military and is expected to enable information superiority, network-centric warfare as well as modernization efforts, such as the Army's Future Combat Systems. Although total program costs have yet to be determined, the Army's effort to acquire and field close to half of the estimated 250,000 JTRS radios that are needed is expected to cost $14.4 billion. Congress asked us to review the JTRS program to determine if there are either management or technical challenges and risks that could jeopardize a successful program outcome.

We found that the JTRS Program has made considerable progress to date in planning and developing key aspects of the JTRS radios. At a fundamental level, a Joint Program Office has been established to bring together the services' individual efforts to develop software-defined radios. The program office was instrumental in developing a standard software communications architecture that provides a foundation for building JTRS radios and evolving an open systems approach to facilitate technology insertion. The program office has reduced risk by employing an evolutionary acquisition strategy, whereby improved communications capabilities will be delivered in increments. However, the program still faces several managerial and technological challenges that could affect the Department of Defense's (DOD's) ability to develop and procure JTRS radios successfully. These include managing requirements and funding, maturing key technologies, integrating system components, testing, and developing secure communications. The most significant challenge we identified is the lack of a strong, joint-management structure. The current JTRS management structure is made up of a Joint Program Office, designated service-led program clusters, and other DOD organizations carrying out several related acquisition activities. The Joint Program Office is responsible for developing the communications architecture, radio waveforms, and security components, while the services are primarily responsible for developing, acquiring, and funding the actual radios. This structure, while preferable over individual service efforts, is still fragmented, making it difficult to resolve interservice differences involving requirements and funding, and hampering the production of key program documents, as in the following examples: it has been difficult to get the services to commit the funding necessary to execute the JTRS program; the program management structure has been unable to get the services to reach agreement over new and changing requirements expeditiously; and key program documents, such as the Concept of Operations and Migration Plans, have not effectively provided a joint vision for how JTRS capabilities will be developed and used. As a consequence, several program development efforts, such as handheld radios, have been delayed by more than a year. 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. Technology maturity is another significant challenge facing the JTRS program. Our work on best practices has shown that programs that move to product development with immature technologies have greater difficulty meeting cost, schedule, and performance requirements than programs that mature technologies before moving into product development. The initial JTRS radio development, for helicopters and ground vehicles, was allowed to proceed into the Systems Development and Demonstration phase with technology readiness levels lower than those recommended by best practices. Further, technologies that are critical to several JTRS variants--such as miniaturized components, batteries, and multimodal antennas--are not sufficiently advanced to meet requirements and will take several more years to mature. Examples of other technological challenges include the development of complex software, the difficulty of integrating radios with host platforms, and a compressed testing schedule. In addition, developing encrypted capabilities and secure communications will be difficult because of the complex nature of the radio.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation. Also as a result of GAO's work, there was legislative language included in the Fiscal Year 2004 Defense Authorization Bill (section 213) that required DOD to strengthen the joint management structure. In February 2004, DOD issued a plan to Congress for strengthening the joint management structure of the JTRS program. As reported in the plan, DOD proposed to realign the existing acquisition management structure for all the JTRS programs and components under the authority of a single Joint Program Executive Office. In February 2005, DOD formally implemented the plan and established a JTRS Joint Program Executive Office. The new Office will have overall responsibility for the requirements, design, and development of the JTRS radios.

    Recommendation: While significant accomplishments have been realized, management and technological challenges exist that could impair JTRS's success. The Secretary of Defense should take steps to strengthen the joint-program management structure to facilitate program funding and requirements outcomes and assure configuration management of JTRS. In strengthening the structure, the Secretary should consider (1) establishing centralized program funding, (2) realigning the Joint Program Office under a different organizational arrangement, and (3) placing the cluster development programs under the Joint Program Office control.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. Subsequently, DOD has updated key program-related documents. Specifically, in 2004, DOD issued a revised concept of operations for JTRS users. In addition, DOD has several science and technology research investments underway to develop key enabling technologies, such as antennas that will be needed for JTRS. The JTRS Cluster 1 program, for example, has defined a new acquisition strategy for needed antennas and power amplification that will leverage research work being conducted by the Army's CERDEC. The program recently awarded research contracts for technology development in these areas.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should take action to ensure the JTRS Program realizes its full potential by (1) directing the completion of key program documents detailing the program's vision; (2) making sure key enabling technologies, such as networking capabilities, are adequately addressed; and (3) assessing the impact that the continued purchase of existing radios may have on JTRS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Jan 21, 2021

Jan 19, 2021

Jan 14, 2021

Jan 12, 2021

Dec 10, 2020

Dec 2, 2020

Nov 20, 2020

Nov 19, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here