Bloomberg Business News reported yesterday that the Air Force and Navy want to kill their respective versions of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS, or “Jitters”). Reporter Tony Capaccio is the gold standard for accuracy on such stories, so if defense secretary Robert Gates goes along with the service recommendations, the curtain will soon fall on the last of the big Rumsfeld networking initiatives. Space Radar and the Transformational Communications Satellite (TSAT) have already been shown the door, and nobody really knows what is going to happen to the Army’s network-centric Future Combat Systems program now that Gates has told vehicle designers to rethink their plans.
The big system-of-systems initiatives begun under the banner of military transformation never got firmly rooted in the political system or the military bureaucracies, but that doesn’t mean they were bad ideas. JTRS in particular had the potential to eliminate barriers to communication among diverse tactical units by utilizing a “software reconfigurable” design that could instantly adjust to use many different waveforms. Because the services acquired their current communications systems in a haphazard way over the years, it is not uncommon for planes such as the C-130 Hercules to carry half a dozen radios so that all the players in an operation can communicate. Needless to say, it is very expensive to maintain so many different types of radios, and warfighters have undoubtedly died for lack of the right links in life-threatening situations.
Apparently that was not enough to save JTRS in the Air Force and Navy budgeting systems. The Army will soldier on with its version of the radio, because it takes most of the casualties when communications break down. The fact that the other services feel no sense of obligation to land warriors to preserve their part of the program speaks volumes about the durability of jointness when budgets become tight. The Air Staff has been quick to turn Bush-era networking initiatives such as TSAT into bill-payers when it thought the new administration wasn’t watching, and its 2011-2015 budget plan is full of communications and reconnaissance cuts that will hurt soldiers more than airmen. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. James Cartwright threw Air Force budgeteers out of his office recently for proposing an early kill of the JSTARS radar plane, but that hasn’t deterred the service from proposing cuts to other programs like JTRS that would have enabled it to better support warfighters on the ground.
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