Conferees slash $1.4 billion from Army tactical radio funding

The final version of the fiscal 2008 Defense authorization bill slashed Army funds for purchase of its standard tactical radio system by $1.4 billion and directed the service to develop a modernization plan.

The Army had requested a total of $2.3 billon for Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System radios in its regular and war supplemental budgets, but House and Senate conferees slashed that request to $943 million.

The conference report on the authorization bill, expected to be voted on this week, said that the House and Senate Armed Services committees support the Army's overall effort to improve communications and properly equip units deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq. But the report said the service's appetite for SINCGARS radios is inconsistent with plans for future battlefield networks, which require dramatic increases in bandwidth for data transmission, enhanced network security and systems that can operate across a wider electronic spectrum.

SINCGARS radios, which operate in the 30 to 88 megahertz frequency range, currently serve as the backbone of Army battlefield voice communications and have a data throughput of 32 kilobits per second, or about two-thirds the speed of a standard dial-up modem.

While SINCGARS radios are a proven communications workhorse for the Army, the conference report said the service needs to move on from the legacy system and align itself with the long-delayed Joint Tactical Radio System program, designed to field a family of interoperable radios to all four military services.

The report said the committees are concerned that the Army plans to acquire more than 170,000 SINCGARS radios this fiscal year will seriously undermine the service's investment in JTRS. It directed the Army only to procure the minimum SINCGARS units needed to fill urgent short-term needs.

ITT is the Army's key supplier of SINCGARS radios, and has delivered 490,000 of them since the company was awarded a seven-year contract valued at $2.5 billion in 2004, said Daniel Fischoff, vice president and director of business development in ITT's Aerospace/Communications Division.

Fischoff said that despite the language in the authorization bill, "the Army is still interested in acquiring SINCGARS, [as] it is the high density, core communications system on the battlefield." He noted that SINCGARS radios are used in every tactical vehicle, including tanks, Humvees and newly fielded Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected armored vehicles. He added that until JTRS is developed and fielded, "the Army will continue to support SINCGARS."

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