U.S. Army Report Card on Network Gear Gives JTRS Radio Low Marks

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WASHINGTON — Based on soldier feedback, the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) sees real promise in certain network gear, but recommends scrapping other systems entirely, according to an internal Army memo.

Some of the items that received the lowest marks, such as the Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio (JTRS GMR), have been in development for years and represent billions of dollars of investment for the Army.

Marked “for official use only,” the July 27 memo serves as a report card for 31 systems evaluated this summer at the Army’s Network Integration Exercise, held at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The document was signed by Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, who recently became the director of TRADOC’s Army Capabilities Integration Center.

For example, the Puma unmanned aerial system gets rave reviews, while some of the Army’s longstanding network programs receive dismal ratings.

Army spokesman Paul Mehney said it would be premature to comment on the exact system findings of the Brigade Modernization Command report.

Mehney said the report’s recommendations, along with detailed assessments by the Army’s Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), would be presented as part of an acquisition decision point late this year. The gear was tested over six weeks this summer by more than 3,800 soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, who pounded on equipment from formal programs of record and also informally evaluated more than 30 emerging technologies.

The document says the tests are forcing the Army to rethink its requirements for its battlefield network, which service leaders call their top modernization priority.

In many respects, this is exactly what the Network Integration Exercise, the brainchild of Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, was designed to do.

“The reality is these [exercises] are as much about learning as they are about testing. After all, the only way to fix problems is to accurately identify them,” Chiarelli said when the event kicked off in June.

In addition to specific system reviews, TRADOC also reached two broader findings: The Army lacks soldier-level connectivity and unit mission command capabilities, and it must develop comprehensive requirements accordingly.

According to Mehney, recent sources-sought notices issued by PEO Integration focus in part on these two critical capabilities.

He said the TRADOC findings, coupled with results from the ATEC, will inform which systems the Army ultimately decides to buy and field.

While ATEC focused on the systems’ performance — whether the widget did what it was supposed to do — TRADOC looked at whether the soldiers thought the systems provided any operational benefit. In essence, TRADOC asked: If you deployed tomorrow, would you take this stuff with you? For some of the equipment, the soldiers’ answer was an enthusiastic yes — for other gear, a resounding no.

Receiving the lowest grades were the JTRS GMR, the Network Integration Kit, the Nett Warrior Surrogate and Cerberus Lite.

For each of these, TRADOC recommended the Army stop development and not field the equipment.

For JTRS GMR and the Network Integration Kit, both left over from the Army’s Future Combat Systems program, TRADOC recommends continuing to use the systems to test the Army’s new advanced waveforms, which did show promise.

“The GMR is neither simple nor easy to operate,” the memo says. The system’s display screen was “not intuitive for the soldiers to use.”

For Cerberus Lite, a man-portable sensor system, soldiers thought “it imposes more of a burden to the unit than the benefits it renders.”

For other systems, such as the JTRS Handheld Manpack System, TRADOC recommended holding off on fielding, but saw enough potential that it urges the Army to continue development. TRADOC again noted that the waveforms demonstrated promise, but said the box itself requires “extensive improvements.” One of the main problems had to do with the system’s startup time, which could stretch to more than 20 minutes, leaving soldiers at risk and unable to communicate with each other.

The Mounted Soldier System, a wearable vest and head display for tank crews, is not ready to be fielded as an integrated system either, according to TRADOC. Specifically, the Microclimate Cooling Garment should not be fielded as currently designed.

Meanwhile, TRADOC encouraged the Army to continue fielding the Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar System, the Puma UAV, and the newest version of software (Joint Capability Release) for the FBCB2 system.

It also recommends the Army continue to field some of the gear that was rapidly developed and fielded to Iraq and Afghanistan — for example, the SIPR/NIPR Access Point, known as SNAP. The device provides beyond-line-of-sight connectivity to the Defense Department’s SIPR and NIPR networks at the company level.

TRADOC says Harris’ AN-PRC 117G radio works as an interim network solution and that it could be a candidate in the event that a Wideband Networking Waveform-capable radio is not available.

“It demonstrated high reliability and was easy to operate,” the memo says.

In addition to evaluating hardware, the exercise was also meant to help the Army determine at what level — battalion, company, squad — these capabilities are needed.

For example, the Army is still trying to determine when access to full-motion video feeds is operationally useful.

“Promulgating full-motion video across the depth and breadth of the brigade was problematic; video-producing systems are stove-piped and current network transport capacity does not support pushing streaming video without undue consequences,” the memo reads.

TRADOC also says video alone is not useful to the small-unit leader. When overlaid with position location information and operational graphics, the video image allows the soldier to use it quickly in an operational environment, TRADOC said.

This fall, the Army will conduct another similar exercise, the next step in the service’s effort to change the way it buys network gear.

After years of developing its next generation of radios and network gear through lengthy programs of record, the Army is trying to accelerate the process.

“These [exercises] are the mechanism through which the warfighter’s voice is heard in the [process], making sure the right solutions get delivered to deployers at the right time,” the memo says.