Giants Battle Over Military Radio Deal
Pentagon Pushes Tactical Radios Into the Computer Age<@VM>What Is Software Radio?<@VM>Joint Tactical Radio System
- By Joab Jackson
- Nov 16, 2001
Boeing Co. and Raytheon Co. are locked in a billion-dollar battle to develop and build a new military radio system that could define the requirements for the armed services' wireless radio systems for decades to come.
The Army's Joint Tactical Radio System, or JTRS, calls for an integrator to develop a standard for new multifunctional radios, and then work with two vendors that will compete to sell compliant radios to all military agencies.
The companies estimate the integration work alone is worth $300 million to $1 billion, while the subsequent hardware procurement, called Cluster One, could bring an additional $1 billion. Subsequent clusters could reach $6 billion in sales.
The project also will define a sweeping standard for a new type of radio communications, called software-defined radio. The Army hopes this platform will allow units in a theater of operations to communicate easily and even share data with each other, a task now nearly impossible with the many incompatible legacy systems employed.
JTRS represents "a paradigm shift of how we do [radio communications] in a tactical environment," said Jerry McElwee, director of the integrated government systems unit of Boeing's command, control, communication and information systems division.
Doug Grice, Raytheon's director of business development for Army programs, called the program a revolution for the warfighter. "It is the network-centric architecture that the Defense Department has been envisioning," he said.
Raytheon and Boeing have assembled powerhouse teams of integrators to respond to the Oct. 26 request for proposals issued by the Army's Communications-Electronics Command. Bids are due Dec. 10, and contract award is expected in March 2002.
Complex radio work is the bread and butter of Raytheon of Lexington, Mass., whose team includes hardware vendors General Dynamics Corp., Falls Church, Va., and ITT Industries Inc., White Plains, N.Y., as well as Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, which will provide wireless networks engineering expertise.
But Chicago-based Boeing is hungry to move from manufacturing into large-scale integration projects, and so this project carries considerable appeal for the company as well. Boeing, too, brings some muscle to the table: TRW Inc., Cleveland, will provide engineering support; hardware development will be undertaken by Rockwell Collins Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a joint partnership of BAE Systems plc, Farnborough, England, and Harris Corp., Melbourne, Fla.
"There's been all-encompassing contracts before, but I think with JTRS, here is recognition that the scope of this program has to be large enough to answer most of the user needs," said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services with Federal Sources Inc., a market research and consulting company in McLean, Va.
The Department of Defense wants all of its service radio systems to communicate with each other, which today they cannot. In a joint tactical environment of an Afghanistan or Bosnia, trying to pass vital information across incompatible systems can slow a mission.
"When you have Navy fighters providing ground support for Army Special Forces with Air Force supporting them from the air, you really need to have interoperability between all their radios," Bjorklund said.
JTRS calls for the first radios to be fielded in 2005, and the first order of more than 100,000 radios, going mostly to the Army, to be procured by 2006.
Subsequent clusters are expected to follow for air, maritime and handheld missions, totaling 260,000 radios, the estimated number required by all Defense Department agencies.
One of the main requirements is that the new software radios must be able to communicate with a variety of legacy systems. The contract calls for developing a software library of 21 waveforms, including some software radios can use to communicate with older radios.
"Today you have a large installed base that won't be replaced for a while, so procurement in these critical areas may extend out until 2010, or 2012," Grice said.
Just as JTRS radios will be backward compatible, they also will be forward compatible. The winning integrator will develop an entirely new wideband waveform that will enable units to set up a single network across an entire theater of operations. The waveform will also carry a high data throughput, enabling radio systems to download data, maps and other situational awareness tools.
Byron Tarver, business development manager for General Dynamics, estimated the throughput with this new waveform would reach two megabits per second, approaching speeds of cabled local area networks.
The combination of this throughput and platform standardization could bring to radios a level of functionality comparable to that which DOS, the disk operating system, brought to personal computers in the early 1980s, Tarver said.
"You couldn't even envision what applications would be written for the platform. The possibilities were endless," he said, predicting that the same will hold for JTRS. "These will really be computers with radio front ends."
The Raytheon team's combined expertise is its calling card for the work, Grice said. The company estimated its team has fielded 65 percent of U.S. military tactical radios in operation today. Both General Dynamics and ITT worked on the single channel ground and airborne radio project, or Sincgars, the Army precursor of JTRS that used software capabilities to circumnavigate enemy signal jamming.
Paul Nisbet, aerospace analysts for the Newport, R.I.-based JSA Research Inc., agreed with Grice's assessment. "I think Raytheon might have an edge, being as they are the largest of the defense electronics companies. This is their core business," he said.
But Nisbet said that Boeing's 1996 purchase of Rockwell International Corp.'s defense electronics unit, as well as its business strategy of focusing on integration efforts, makes the company a formidable competitor.
"They have been moving away from mundane production efforts, even in their primary products, such as aircraft," Nisbet said.
Boeing's McElwee said his division has managed large-scale integration projects, such as the Apache Longbow, an advanced combat helicopter for the Army, and the Combat Survivor Evader Locator, a software-programmable command and control system that supports combat air and sea rescue operations.
The defining characteristic for both these projects was the ability to manage a large, technically diverse team, McElwee said. And Boeing is banking that team cohesion will be the crucial quality needed to undertake JTRS as well.
"Because of the government's previous work in the development phases in JTRS, all of the intellectual property coming out of that has been shared by all the competitors. So we think the playing field is relatively level and now we're competing on how well we manage programs," said McElwee.Software radio, also known as software-defined radio, is a radio system with some of its core functionality provided by software, allowing for greater flexibility in using different kinds of signals.
Traditionally, a radio transmitter encodes information by modulating a radio wave in set patterns. For instance, an FM transmitter ? the FM stands for frequency modulation ? varies the frequency of a wave to carry its signal. The FM radio receiver recognizes signals only in that FM waveform. Because the encoding and decoding of the signal are done by hardware, the cost and size of such radios limits their multifunctionality.
A software-based radio shifts those encoding and decoding functions from the hardware to software. A software radio operator can swap in and out any number of waveforms from a software library, allowing for communications with potentially unlimited numbers of different radio systems and for myriad ways of communicating with other software radios.
This flexibility offers many advantages. Different public safety departments arriving at an emergency scene can agree on one communications channel, eliminating the incompatibility so common now. Radios used mostly for voice communications will be able to download the situational awareness data and imagery, giving field workers more intelligence. And military units can rapidly alternate and evolve waveforms, keeping communications secure.
"When a new kind of jammer gets used to interfere with radio communications, the military can program around it," said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services with Federal Sources Inc., a market research and consulting company in McLean, Va.
According to a Web site maintained by pioneering software radio engineer Joseph Mitola (www.it.kth.se/~jmitola/
), software radio systems may be more expensive than regular radio systems. This is because they require more sophisticated hardware, such as digital signal processors, digital converters and wideband antennas, to sample the widest possible range of waveforms and frequencies.
However, the cost savings from software radio can be tremendous for organizations, especially those with multiple radio systems. Because software radios can communicate with many other radios, older models otherwise rendered obsolete by newer standards may be kept useful.
Software radio also assures that organizations can upgrade radio systems to accommodate new waveforms, thereby reducing the need to buy new radios when migrating to a new platform.What it is:
A Defense Department initiative to develop radios that can communicate across all existing tactical bandwidths and deliver data and video communications as well as voice.Value:
$300 million to $1 billion for integration.
$1 billion plus for hardwareThe Teams:Boeing Co. Team
TRW Inc. ? Engineering Support
BAE Systems plc with Harris Corp. ? Radio Vendor
Rockwell Collins Inc. ? Radio VendorRaytheon Co. Team
Science Applications International
Corp. ? Engineering Support
General Dynamics Corp. ? Radio Vendor
ITT Industries Inc. ? Radio Vendor
Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.