InsideDefense.com reported last week that commercial-radio vendor Harris Corporation is urging Congress not to spend $300 million appropriated for low-rate production of new Army radios as legislators intended. The radios are supposed to give soldiers on the front line much better voice and data communications, so they don’t have to rely on primitive means of communications like hand signals while they are under fire. According to the InsideDefense account, Harris sent legislators an email complaining, “Radios procured without competition are significantly more expensive — requiring the government to pay a premium cost.”
This is a curious argument coming from a company that has already forced the Army to delay full-rate production of the new radios by three years so its own radios can be certified to compete. Three years is a long time in world politics, and having to keep production of radios ready for fielding at a low rate for three more years just to accommodate the inclusion of commercial alternatives would seem to guarantee taxpayers will be paying a premium through the end of the Obama Administration. I didn’t see the Harris email, but it seems to have omitted the fact that the Army already held a full and open competition for new battlefield radios ten years ago, and was getting ready to make the winners compete for full-rate production contracts this year.
On Monday, the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee tactical land and air forces subcommittee sent Secretary of the Army John McHugh a letter asking what his service plans to do with the $300 million appropriated for low-rate production of the radios that has not yet been obligated. The service can’t just sit on it for three years until a full-rate award is made; as the letter notes, getting better radios to soldiers is the Army’s top acquisition priority, and if some form of production isn’t funded then factories currently manufacturing radios that are ready for delivery will simply cease functioning. That would undoubtedly raise the cost of radios when they are finally acquired, but the real price of delay could be paid in soldiers’ lives if they don’t get better battlefield comms before their next overseas deployments.
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