This month we focus on the most important C4I programs, including data links and tactical radios. In the past year, several key programs have seen either a potential billions of dollars of new contracts (JTRS/ISCHR/Leader Radio), a potential cut of billions of dollars (WIN-T), or a surprising new rebirth for an old but still crucial “cutting edge” capability (CEC).
In September 2018, the US Army awarded competitive contracts to Thales Defense and Harris Radio Corporation, for procurement of the 2-Channel Leader Radio, to support the Army’s Network Modernization strategy, Security Force Assistance Brigade communication needs, and Network Cross-Functional Team experimentation efforts with a software-defined radio capable of providing data and voice communications via multiple waveforms. With the 2-Channel Leader Radio, soldiers will only carry one radio instead of the two currently required for voice and data. Thales’ Leader Radio is its AN/PRC-148C (IMBITR), embedding the TrellisWare TSMTM waveform.
The 2-Channel Leader Radio contract is firm fixed price, ten-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (ID/IQ) contract “structured to maximize flexibility” (according to the Army) – the Army can use the contract to procure radios through yearly competitive delivery orders and it is flexibly structured to allow for integration of new capability as requirements emerge.
Unit costs per radio have not been announced by the Army, but they are likely much higher than ever envisioned for a simple, hand-held Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS)-type radio. These are not efficient, inexpensive commercial systems, despite the commercial waveform. The total Leader Radio program, over 10 years, has been suggested as being a $4 billion acquisition.
In April 2018, a report from the Pentagon’s chief cost analyst and weapons tester tentatively approved the Army’s new plan for a new tactical C4I network, which would follow or replace the multi-billion dollar Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). The Pentagon report stated some elements of the Army’s new network approach were “suitable” but it also said it was too early to assess the strategy as a whole. The new Army strategy is based on a comprehensive review initiated by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. The review was also mandated in the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act.
However, there has not yet been Pentagon approval to shift major funding away from WIN-T, and WIN-T contracts and development continued in 2018. In September 2018, the Army awarded General Dynamics two contracts worth $144.9 million in total, to provide configuration items for the WIN-T mission network and hardware. The work will be performed in Taunton, MA, and be completed in August 2020.
As we said last year, next year may give a better idea of actual future funding – when the big decision of whether to continue or to replace WIN-T may be made. But even if WIN-T is replaced by a more commercially-based concept or system(s), Teal Group expects probably the same scale of funding; it would just become available to new, perhaps more commercially-oriented suppliers.
In November 2018, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and US Navy conducted a joint test of CEC off the coast of Hawaii, according to Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne. The test involved the RAN’s first-of-class (of three planned) air warfare destroyer HMAS Hobart and the US Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS John Finn. According to Pyne, “These trials are the culmination of 12 months of preparations and demonstrate Hobart’s formidable capability. Australia is the first country outside the United States with Cooperative Engagement Capability, and so this demonstration marked the first time this capability was proven between two navies.”
CEC was developed to improve the US Navy’s anti-air warfare capability, by coordinating information from all air and ship sensors into a single, real time, composite track picture that has fire control quality. CEC is more capable than the US’s other multi-billion dollar data link program, JTIDS/MIDS, with higher data throughput rates and fundamental qualitative differences.
Teal Group finds it amazing that for a system that is 33 years old – with development begun in 1985 – CEC is only now expanding beyond the US Navy, and in fact seems to be entering its prime. This analyst has been following CEC for 23 years at Teal Group, and to have people still refer to it as cutting edge (which I guess it is) is somewhat amazing.