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DoD Pushes Forward on Critical U.S. Army Radio Program

Oct. 11, 2012 - 12:13PM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
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The Pentagon’s chief acquisition officer has signed off on an order for 3,726 battlefield networking radios from General Dynamics, company officials told Defense News. The first 800 radios will be shipped to the U.S. Army by the end of this month, they said.

The low-rate initial production order for the AN/PRC-155 two-channel Manpack will be in excess of $250 million when completed, according to Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems.

The decision to move ahead with the program comes just months after a scathing report by the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation identified a host of issues with the radio, calling it “not operationally effective” when using a common communications waveform.

After the radios were evaluated at the White Sands Missile Range in May, Michael Gilmore, Pentagon director of operational test and evaluation, wrote that the system had issues running the Single Channel Ground Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS) waveform. The memo also stated that the radios running SINCGARS suffered from “poor, garbled, and unintelligible” voice quality and were able to transmit data “at less than half the range achieved by legacy SINCGARS radios.”

In response to the report, the Defense Acquisition Board pushed the low-rate procurement decision from July until October to allow the Army and the contractor time to make fixes and conduct further evaluations at the electronic proving ground at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Those evaluations concluded on Oct. 3, and Marzilli said that when it came to SINCGARS range performance, “we more than exceeded the 10-kilometer requirement [for vehicle-mounted]. In fact, they were getting a maximum of 36 kilometers” when the radio was mounted in a vehicle.

At White Sands, Army evaluators were only able to reach about five kilometers, something Marzilli chalks up to the electronic “noise” at the test range, which interferes with signals.

Tests at Fort Huachuca further proved that Manpack was capable of sending information up to 26 kilometers for dismounted soldiers, “which blows away the requirement of five kilometers,” Marzilli added. Furthermore, the Manpack was achieving SINCGARS call completion rates of about 94 percent, with Soldier Radio Waveform completion rates in excess of 95 percent. The radio was also able to achieve operational availability rates that exceeded the 96 percent requirement.

The radios are part of the troubled, multibillion dollar Joint Tactical Radio System family of radios, which is envisioned as a way to network the battlefield from the dismounted soldier up to distant division headquarters. The radios are a key component of the Army’s Capability Set program, which has already shipped packages of radios, sensors and communications devices to two brigade combat teams from the 10th Mountain Division slated to deploy to Afghanistan in 2013.

The two-channel Manpack radios were originally scheduled to deploy with the brigades, but radios made by Harris will take their place in the first two brigades, with the General Dynamics radio currently scheduled to be shipped to the third brigade in June 2013 and backfill the previous brigades when enough General Dynamics systems are ready.

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