Defense Acquisitions:

Department of Defense Needs Framework for Balancing Investments in Tactical Radios

GAO-08-877: Published: Aug 15, 2008. Publicly Released: Aug 15, 2008.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) has spent an estimated $12 billion on the development and production of tactical radios over the last 5 years--about as much as was spent producing Virginia Class submarines ($10.8 billion) in the same period. Survivability and lethality in warfare are increasingly dependent on superior information and communication capabilities. DOD is counting on the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) to deliver the breakthroughs in this area. At the same time as it is developing JTRS, DOD wants to ensure that current forces are equipped with sufficient legacy radios. To address Subcommittee concerns regarding DOD's approach to meeting current and future radio needs, GAO examined this subject. In response, this report addresses (1) how planned investments in key tactical radio systems changed over the last 5 years, (2) why these changes occurred, and (3) the challenges ahead. To assess these topics, GAO's work included reviewing 2003 through 2007 budget requests, legacy radio procurements, and the status of the JTRS program; and interviewing officials from DOD organizations.

Over the past 5 years, DOD investments in key tactical radios have shifted dramatically, both in size and composition. In 2002, when JTRS first began system development, DOD planned to invest close to $3 billion in JTRS over fiscal years 2003-2007. However, as shown below, actual investments more than doubled and shifted to producing thousands more legacy radios. Compared with the $3.2 billion that was slated to be spent on JTRS and the Army and Marine Corps legacy radios, about $8.3 billion was actually spent. Of this, about $5.7 billion was spent on the legacy radios, while $2.5 billion was spent on JTRS development. The change in tactical radio investments was brought about by (1) delays in the development and production of JTRS and (2) urgent demands for more radios to equip current forces. JTRS has encountered significant cost, schedule, and performance problems, causing some users to buy more legacy radios instead. Moreover, the military services' demand for tactical radios soared because of combat operations, the need to equip Guard and Reserve forces with modern radios, and to add more radios per combat unit. Supplemental funding of $5.5 billion paid for most of these legacy radios. Over the next 5 years, DOD faces several challenges in providing needed tactical communications capabilities to the warfighter, including: (1) overcoming technology hurdles, size and power constraints, and security architecture issues to complete JTRS development; (2) managing investments within defined fiscal constraints. A legacy vehicle radio costs about $20,000, while its more capable JTRS replacement is estimated to cost up to 10 times more; and (3) phasing in JTRS without prematurely retiring a relatively young inventory of legacy radios. DOD does not have a strategy to meet these challenges and thus runs the risk of having its future communications capabilities decided ad hoc.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation, but has not developed a comprehensive strategy. In April 2009, DOD submitted a report to Congress on the Army Tactical Radio Fielding Plan, but the plan does not provide details on the communications and networking functions needed, identify near- and long-term capability needs, determine funding, or identify contingencies in the event there are further delays with the Joint Tactical Radio System. According to NII, the other Services developed similar fielding plans for the ground domain in 2009, but they too are limited. While these plans are constructive, they do not constitute the recommended comprehensive strategy and implementation plan for making sound investment decisions for tactical radios. In addition, there are further changes expected over the next several years in the Services' acquisitions of communications and networking capabilities. As a result, we now consider the recommendation as closed-not implemented.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to plan for and manage the development and fielding of tactical radios across the department, the Secretary of Defense should develop a comprehensive strategy and implementation plan for making sound investment decisions for tactical radios that (1) is based on operational architectures that define the communications and networking functions needed on the battlefield, (2) assesses and prioritizes the capabilities and requirements needed in the near- and long-term, (3) sets bounds for the funding that will be committed to address these needs, (4) lays out an effective migration and fielding plan for delivering capabilities to the warfighter, and (5) identifies contingencies in case there are further problems and delays with JTRS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation but has taken no action to implement it. One key reason for the lack of action is that there have been further delays with the development of the Joint Tactical Radio System and further readjustments in the quantities of radios needed by the military services. DOD has indicated that it may consider a waiver process in the future when the JTRS radios are ready to be fielded, but that is unlikely to occur for several years. As a result, we now consider the recommendation as closed-not implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should reinvigorate the tactical radio notification/waiver process to provide department wide insight into the continued procurement of legacy and interim radios. In doing so, consideration should be given to ensuring clear guidance and procedures are developed and communicated across the department.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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