Defense Acquisitions:

Restructured JTRS Program Reduces Risk, but Significant Challenges Remain

GAO-06-955: Published: Sep 11, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 11, 2006.

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In 1997, the Department of Defense (DOD) initiated the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, a key element of its effort to transform military operations to be network centric. Using emerging software-defined radio technology, the JTRS program plans to develop and procure hundreds of thousands of radios that give warfighters the capability to access maps and other visual data, communicate via voice and video, and obtain information directly from battlefield sensors. The JTRS program has encountered a number of problems, resulting in significant delays and cost increases. The program is currently estimated to total about $37 billion. Given the criticality of JTRS to DOD's force transformation, Congress directed GAO to continue its ongoing review of the JTRS program. This report (1) assesses whether a recent restructuring puts the program in a better position to succeed and (2) identifies any risks that challenge the successful fielding of JTRS.

The proposed JTRS restructuring--a plan DOD approved in March 2006--appears to address and reduce program risks that GAO and others have documented in recent years. While still meeting key requirements, including those related to DOD's network centric transformation effort, the revised approach is expected to develop and field capabilities in increments rather than attempting to develop and field the capabilities all at once. Costly and non-transformational requirements will be deferred to later increments. Deferring these requirements will allow more time to mature critical technologies, integrate components, and test the radio system before committing to production. JTRS program management has also been strengthened through the establishment of a Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO). The more centralized management structure should help the program improve oversight and coordination of standards, system engineering, and development of the radios. The real test will be in execution, and, for that, several management and technical challenges remain. First, JPEO must finalize the details of the restructuring, including formal acquisition strategies, independent cost estimates, and test and evaluation plans. DOD also needs to develop migration and fielding plans for how JTRS networking capabilities will be used. Completing and obtaining DOD's approval of these activities is needed to ensure the JTRS program is executable. There are also a number of longer-term technical challenges that the JTRS program must address. For example, the proposed interim solutions for enabling network interoperability among different JTRS variants have yet to be developed. In addition, integrating the radio's hardware onto diverse platforms and meeting respective size, weight, and power limitations has also been a longstanding challenge that must be overcome. Furthermore, operating in a networked environment open to a large number of potential users has generated an unprecedented need for information assurance. This need has resulted in a lengthy, technically challenging, and still evolving certification process from the National Security Agency. At the same time, the program must address the need to obtain and sustain commitments and support from the military services and other stakeholders--a challenge that has often hampered joint development efforts in the past. The extent to which DOD overcomes these challenges will determine the extent to which the program manages cost, schedule, and performance risks and supports JTRS-dependent military operations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The JTRS program was restructured in 2006 to address cost, schedule, and performance problems that were encountered in developing the radio system. DOD restructured the JTRS program to reduce risk and establish a more incremental approach to developing JTRS capabilities. In restructuring the program, DOD reduced or deferred several requirements and added significantly more time and funding to complete the radio system. In 2008, DOD completed the final components of the JTRS restructuring. Specifically, DOD approved new program baselines for the ground mobile; handheld, manpack, and small form fit; and network enterprise program components of JTRS. The baselines establish the costs and milestone dates these programs will be measured against. In addition, DOD approved the start of system development and baseline for the remaining JTRS program component to develop airborne, maritime, and fixed station radios. The actions taken to restructure JTRS and its program components now emphasize a knowledge-based acquisition approach that will enhance the likelihood of success for the JTRS program. As a result, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood of success of the JTRS program, the Secretary of Defense should, before approving the detailed program plans for each JTRS domain, ensure that they reflect stable and well-defined requirements; knowledge-based acquisition strategies; clear and meaningful test plans that address the need to not only test individual JTRS components but the overall networking capabilities of JTRS as well; and, funding commitments necessary to execute the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2009, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information submitted the Army's Tactical Radio Fielding Plan to Congress. While the Fielding Plan was prepared in response to Section 113 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, the Office of the Assistant Secretary also acknowledged in July 2009 that the Fielding Plan addresses the recommendation in our 2006 report. We have reviewed the Fielding Plan and concur with that assessment. Moreover, we agree with Office of the Assistant Secretary's acknowledgment that the Fielding Plan is a mark in time and submitted with the understanding that changes will occur as further insights are gained about networking capabilities. We will continue monitoring DOD's efforts to update the Fielding Plan as needed.

    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood of success of the JTRS program, the Secretary of Defense should develop JTRS migration and fielding plans that are consistent with a well-developed concept of operations for using JTRS networking capabilities and effectively balances recent investments in acquiring legacy radios with future needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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