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The Army's Current Communications Initiatives

The Army is currently pursuing three major programs that are expected to increase its communications bandwidth: the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), and a new satellite communications (SATCOM) terminal. Those programs had formerly been considered part of the Army's digitization initiative, which--as discussed in Chapter 1--has now been subsumed under the Army's transformation effort.(1) Although no longer separately identified in the Department of Defense's annual reports to the Congress, the digitization initiative still comprises about 100 Army programs whose collective goal is to field advanced information technologies throughout the service's combat and support forces.

In the defense program covering fiscal years 2003 to 2007, overall spending for the service's digitization programs was projected to average $4.1 billion dollars annually.(2) Approximately 28 percent of that funding was allocated to communications; 24 percent to command-and-control software programs; 14 percent to digital processing capabilities in equipment such as the Abrams tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, and Comanche helicopter; 27 percent to data-link improvements in intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting systems; and 7 percent to training and development of doctrine for the new digital equipment. The WIN-T, JTRS, and new SATCOM terminal account for about one-third of the 28 percent of total digitization funding allocated to communications between 2003 and 2007. The remaining two-thirds of that funding is designated for upgrades to the Army's large fixed-base satellite communications terminals; for command-and-control programs associated with the fire-support and intelligence nets; and for other, less expensive, less complex radio systems.

Under the Army's current plans, the likely total investment in the WIN-T, JTRS, and new SATCOM terminal will range from $19 billion to $24 billion through 2020. Procurement of the satellite terminals will be completed by 2007, and the first combat units will be equipped with all three systems by 2010. From 2003 to 2009, the Army plans to spend roughly $2.5 billion on the JTRS, $1.7 billion on the WIN-T, and $200 million on the new SATCOM terminal.

The WIN-T Program

The overall purpose of the WIN-T program is to develop and purchase communications equipment for tactical operations centers (TOCs) at the brigade and higher levels of command. The program will provide equipment to replace the current mobile subscriber equipment phone system; it will also provide the radios (particularly such equipment as the high-capacity line-of-sight, or HCLOS, radio), the telephone switching networks and computers, the local area networks, and the control software that make up the communications element of a TOC.

WIN-T equipment will be capable of operating with the JTRS to allow the higher command levels to communicate with brigade and lower levels. Although the requirements for the WIN-T are still being developed, the operational data rate that its radios are expected to provide will be about 833 kilobits per second (Kbps)--the effective throughput at the applications layer for the HCLOS radio.(3) Such a data rate will allow streaming video at a speed of about 16 frames per second.

Because the requirements for the WIN-T are continuing to evolve, its costs are uncertain. The Army's current estimates of the program's total costs range from $4 billion to $9 billion through 2020; estimates by contractors range from $5 billion to $6.6 billion. Recent discussions within the Army's program office for the WIN-T have focused on issues related to bandwidth supply, and program officials have noted shortfalls that are consistent with the results of this Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis. One solution that the Army is considering is redundancy--that is, increasing from five to 101 the number of WIN-T sites (either on vehicles or in the TOCs) that military units of the future will have.(4) Still to be settled, however, are questions regarding the costs of that redundancy and the "footprint" (the amount of space devoted to computer and communications equipment in the TOCs) associated with such an expansion.

The Joint Tactical Radio System

The JTRS is a family of radios designed to provide interoperable tactical communications among the military services. Communications among the services' different radios during the 1991 Gulf War, and the JTRS program was initiated following that conflict. The military's procurement of the JTRS is divided into "clusters," which are differentiated according to the lead agency responsible for developing the radio hardware for various mission areas or weapon platforms (for example, a tank or a ship). (Table A-1 summarizes the services' participation in the JTRS program by cluster, lead agent, and funding.)
Table A-1.
Planned Investment in the Joint Tactical Radio System, by Organization and Cluster

Cluster and Investors
(Lead agency)
Mission Area or Platform Planned Spending,
2003 to 2007
(Millions of dollars)

Cluster 1 (Army) Vehicular/Rotary Wing  
  Army   516  
  Marine Corps   51  
  Air Force   22  
Cluster 2 (SOCOM) Handheld Radios/Manpack    
  SOCOM   10  
  Air Force   35  
Cluster 3 (Navy) Ships/Fixed Sites 517  
Aviation Cluster (Air Force) Fixed-Wing Planes    
  Air Force   938  
  Navy   0  
    Subtotal   2,089  
Joint Program Office Waveform Development 269  
      Total   2,358  

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on the Department of Defense's Future Years Defense Program for fiscal years 2003 through 2007.
Note: SOCOM = Special Operations Command.

The Army is most heavily involved in the Cluster 1 portion of the JTRS program. The cluster's goals are to develop and acquire a family of new software-programmable radios that can be used to communicate with a number of existing Army and Air Force radios operating in frequency bands of between 2 megahertz and 2 gigahertz. The radios built under Cluster 1 must also be capable of using a new wide-band networking waveform (WNW) that will provide substantially increased bandwidth compared with the amount provided today. The WNW is a family of four waveforms at different frequencies that offer different levels and types of capability.(5) The latest description of the Army's requirements for the WNW states:

"[T]he WNW shall support greater than 2 Mbits per second of Network Throughput as a threshold. The WNW shall have the ability to make efficient use of extra frequency spectrum when available and shall support Network Throughputs of greater than 5 Mbits per second as an objective.. . . The JTRS WNW operating in the Point-to-Point mode shall support a user throughput rate of greater than 2 Mbps in each direction."(6)

On the basis of that description, CBO used 2 Mbps as the throughput rate for the JTRS Cluster 1 radio system in its analysis of bandwidth supply in 2010.

The most recent estimates of costs for the JTRS are on a par with an average production cost per radio of about $127,000.(7) In comparison, the radios being replaced by the JTRS range in cost from about $8,000 to $28,000. However, per unit of bandwidth, systems like the SINCGARS (Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) and EPLRS (Enhanced Position Location Reporting System) cost about 25 cents to 50 cents per bit per second; the corresponding cost for the JTRS is projected to be about 6 cents, which is only slightly higher than that using fiber-optic cable.(8)

The Army plans to buy a total of 106,000 JTRS radios, which would be sufficient to equip about one-half of its forces. (Left unequipped would be most of the 15 enhanced separate brigades, their combat support and combat service support units, and the National Guard divisions.)(9) Under current plans, the JTRS program is projected to cost about $15 billion. Of that amount, procurement costs would account for $13.5 billion, and research and development costs, $1.5 billion. The Army currently plans to purchase about 10,000 JTRS radios per year, on average, at an annual cost of about $1 billion over the period from 2010 to 2020.

Those plans may be jeopardized, however, if perceptions of the program as a high-risk effort prove to be correct. (A recent analysis sponsored by the Army noted the high level of risk associated with the JTRS program's successful completion.)(10) Elements that contribute to that assessment include the complexity of the software development required, the size and weight constraints imposed on the radios, the amount of power that they will consume, the heat that they dissipate, and interference problems that are anticipated among the waveforms when the radios are colocated. For example, each JTRS radio will have multiple central processing units and power amplifiers to cover the broad range of frequencies (2 megahertz to 2 gigahertz) over which each radio must operate.(11) That equipment will dissipate substantial heat into the confined spaces (such as tanks) in which the radios will be installed, making the reliability of their electronic components a primary requirement. The Army has identified potential solutions to such problems but has yet to demonstrate that they will work collectively.

Another risk factor associated with the JTRS program is the challenge of ensuring that the radios will function properly as part of a complex communications network. The JTRS will provide the communications capability to support a mobile battlefield version of what today is largely an Internet based at fixed sites.(12) The Defense Science Board has stated that "the Internetworking aspects of the program, a critical contribution of moving the DoD [Department of Defense] point-to-point and broadcast wireless infrastructure into an integrated Internetwork, is [sic] not being adequately addressed."(13)

Related cautions about the same set of issues were expressed as part of the supporting assessments generated for the Defense Acquisition Board's decisions in 2003 related to the Future Combat System (FCS).(14) The assessments noted the following: "Bandwidth could be an Achilles Heel. . . . Estimated requirements could reach 10's of Mbps for UA [this CBO study conservatively estimates 3 Mbps to 10 Mbps]. . . . [The] Army must have a credible bandwidth requirement and planned solution to pass Milestone B."(15) Those bandwidth-related concerns were reiterated by the recent Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) assessment of the FCS.(16) The report noted that what it termed "critical enablers"--that is, complementary systems such as the JTRS and WIN-T--must be "managed and fielded on the same time schedule as FCS." While in general, the IDA study panel took the Army's technology assessments at face value, they did assign a yellow advisory assessment (implying caution) to the JTRS's "wideband waveforms."(17)

How would the results of CBO's analysis be affected if the JTRS program did not deliver its improved radios by 2010? The most likely substitutes for the JTRS would be either the NTDR (Near-Term Data Radio); a digital, improved EPLRS; or a new radio with a similar maximum bandwidth. If a substitution was necessary, the operational bandwidth provided by such a radio would be about 30 Kbps instead of the 200 Kbps provided by the JTRS. As a consequence, the mismatch in 2010 between bandwidth supply and demand in the Army's future Objective Force would be much greater and more pervasive than the results discussed in Chapter 2 (see Table A-2).
Table A-2.
Effective Bandwidth Supply Versus Peak Demand in 2010, with a JTRS Substitute

Relative Supply
Versus Peak
Demand (S : D)b

Corps 1 : 10 to 30  
Division 1 : 10 to 30  
Brigadec 1 : 3 to 10
  1 : 50 to 150
Battalion 1 : 15 to 30  
Company 1 : 2 to 10  
Platoon 1 : 0.5 to 1  
Squad/Vehicle 1 to 2 : 1  

Source: Congressional Budget Office.
Note: JTRS = Joint Tactical Radio System.
a. At the higher command levels, the table refers to the operations networks only. At lower levels, the distinctions between the various communications networks (for example, operations, intelligence, and fire-support) become less clear.
b. Based on an approximate logarithmic scale, the color coding is as follows: yellow indicates that supply is between about one-third and three times demand (a marginal demand/supply match), and orange signifies that demand is from three to 10 times supply. Red (here used for the corps, division, lower brigade-level, and battalion level relationships) means that demand exceeds supply by a factor of 10 or more.
c. The up-arrow (↑ ) indicates the throughput rate for communications to equivalent or higher command levels. The down-arrow (↓ ) indicates the throughput rate to lower command levels.


The SATCOM Terminal

The Army is developing a new satellite communications terminal to replace the canceled STAR-T (Super High Frequency Triband Advanced Range Extension Terminal) program. It has several candidates, including a modified version of an existing SATCOM terminal being used by the Air Force, called the Lightweight Multiband Satellite Terminal (LMST), which operates in the C-, X-, and Ku-band frequencies. Those frequencies, which in the order given provide increasingly more bandwidth and increasingly lower probabilities of interception and detection, collectively enable communications with most military and commercial satellites. The Army expects that an improved version of the LMST, available around 2006, will provide about 2.5 Mbps of operational throughput. By 2010, with the addition of Ka-band capability, the terminal's effective throughput should be about 8 Mbps per channel.(18) The Army plans to buy 60 of these new satellite communications terminals at a cost of $195 million between 2003 and 2007.

1.  Some details related to the digitization initiative are reported in annual defense reports. See, for instance, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen's Annual Report to the President and Congress in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Over that period, the Army's annual investment in digitization increased from $3 billion to $3.6 billion.
2.  Congressional Budget Office, The Long-Term Implications of Current Defense Plans (January 2003).
3.  The maximum engineering throughput is about 8 million bits per second (Mbps), point to point.
4.  Reported to the Congressional Budget Office in a briefing by the WIN-T Program Office titled "Warfighter Information Network-Tactical," February 20, 2003.
5.  The WNW is being developed in stages: stage 1, a wide-band waveform available by 2004; stage 2, a midband waveform that has a low-probability-of-intercept (LPI) and a low-probability-of-detection (LPD) capability by 2005; stage 3, a midband waveform with "anti-jam" capability by 2005; and stage 4, a narrow-band, special-access waveform by 2006. The WNW's interoperability with the legacy waveforms is expected by 2006.
6.  Department of the Army, JTRS Joint Program Office, JTRS WNW Functional Description Document (August 23, 2001), pp. 12-13.
7.  Based on the December 2002 Selected Acquisition Report.
8.  The Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Tactical Battlefield Communications (February 2000, p. 102) states that the cost of bandwidth using fiber-optic cable is 4 cents per bit per second.
9.  The SINCGARS SIP (special improvement program), which procured the most recent and capable SINCGARS radio, purchased 108,000 of them. However, the number of fielded SINCGARS is about 211,000, which includes all versions of the radios that have been purchased.
10.  Department of the Army, Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity [AMSAA], Army Future Combat Systems Unit of Action Systems Book, Version 1.3(s) (September 18, 2002), pp. 2-2, 2-18, and 2-19.
11.  In principle, one processor could be sufficient. But the constraints of timely development plus the Army's desire to incorporate existing, patented technologies and use existing control systems force the choice of multiple processors.
12.  In Operation Iraqi Freedom, for instance, the client/server Internet could be characterized as movable or mobile clients networking through static banks of fileservers located at fixed sites in locations such as Kuwait, Qatar, and later Baghdad.
13.  Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Tactical Battlefield Communications (February 2000), p. 93 and Annex D.
14.  These materials are the 31 technology assessments referred to by E.C. Aldridge Jr. in his memorandum of May 17, 2003, to Secretaries of the military departments regarding the Future Combat Systems acquisition decision.
15.  L. Delaney, "Independent Review of Technology Maturity Assessment for Future Combat Systems Increment 1" (March 3, 2003). The study was commissioned by the Army prior to the May 17, 2003, Defense Acquisition Board Milestone 2 meeting on the FCS.
16.  L.D. Welsh, "Report of the Indendent Assessment Panel for the Future Combat System" (draft, Institute for Defense Analyses, April, 28, 2003).
17.  Ibid., p. 60.
18.  Reported in Inside the Army, June 3, 2002, p. 1, and confirmed by discussions with the Army staff on August 8, 2002. There are Ku-band satellite terminals that generate such throughputs, but the Ka frequency band offers the additional advantage of a low probability of interception and detection.

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