In a sign that the U.S. Army’s modernization program has gained significant momentum, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, approved an Army request to buy up to 13,077 additional Rifleman Radios in a July 11 memo.
Kendall’s move builds on a July 2011 Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) order of 6,250 radios from the industry team of General Dynamics and Thales for $56.4 million.
The radio, a critical component of the Joint Tactical Radio System’s Handheld Manpack, and Small Form Fit Program (JTRS HMS), plays a central role in the Army’s modernization program. When connected to a smartphone device, the Rifleman Radio forms the backbone of the Army’s Nett Warrior program, which allows dismounted soldiers to push voice messages, images and data across the battlefield.
As such, it is one of the core technologies in the service’s Capability Set 13 scheduled in October to be fielded to two Afghanistan-bound brigade combat teams from the 10th Mountain Division, and to additional brigade combat teams in fiscal 2013.
The memo comes just before a July 27 Defense Acquisition Board meeting at which the HMS program will be discussed, according to a source.
Nett Warrior has one successful combat deployment under its belt, having been issued to the 75th Ranger Regiment on a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.
While Kendall has signed off on this latest LRIP, important program changes could still come. Before a full-rate production contract is signed, Kendall stipulates that the Army must first conduct a competition “open to nonprogram of record vendors, on a timeline that minimizes interruption to fielding of operational units not later than fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013.”
Within two weeks of receiving the memo, Kendall writes, he also wants the Army to come up with a business case and revised competition plan for a full-rate production contract award, since the Rifleman Radio “may have future sources (i.e., multiple vendors) in response to evolving requirements or new commercial capabilities, and is expected to have a short service life.”
The Army also has two weeks to deliver to Kendall an acquisition strategy that “addresses the criteria to evaluate potential sources for Program of Record (POR) and non-POR radios. Identify the actions to qualify a non-POR product against the minimum requirements, and the timeline that non-POR vendors must meet in order to be included in Army Network Integrated Evaluation (NIE) events.”
While a big win for General Dynamics, the upcoming competition also opens the door to radio makers like Harris, Exelis and others, who have been aggressively competing for several JTRS contracts identified as part of the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation.
The memorandum also states that a full-rate production decision is projected in late 2013. The latest buy would represent 10 percent of the Army’s total planned procurement of 193,279 radios.
In a separate memo also issued on July 11, Kendall wrote that he supports a request from the Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO) JTRS for an organizational restructuring and realignment. JPEO JTRS has requested a transition to what it is calling the Joint Tactical Networking Center (JTNC) by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, and Kendall has designated the Army Acquisition Executive as the lead acquisition executive for the new office.
Components of the JTRS program will be run by the military services, with the Army owning the JTRS HMS program, the Airborne, Maritime/Fixed Station program, as well as the JTRS Network Enterprise Domain program (to be renamed the Joint Tactical Networks program). The Navy will run the Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) program.