Defense Department, tech

It's the cost, stupid, DOD's deputy asst. secretary for C3 says

[[update: be sure to look at the comments here for some sound defense of SCA.]]

Dr. Ronald Jost spoke this morning at the second day of the IDGA’s Software Radio Summit. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3 Space and Spectrum said essentially that there was a major disconnect between what industry saw as the advantage of software defined radios — the programmable radios capable of being configured for multiple types of communications and being upgraded via software– and what DOD wanted them for. While industry is dazzled by the potential to program all varieties of new custom waveforms, the DOD, he said, just wanted to use SDRs to help consolidate its communications networks toward a single, IP-based topology–and save some money on maintenance of the equipment.

But it isn’t happening the way the DOD wanted it to because of a number of reasons: first of all, they’ve ended up buying every possible configuration of SDR possible hardware under the JTRS program and other procurements, and so the advantages of a simple operating environment have thus far been lost. “You’re killing us,” Jost said to the vendors. “We can’t port waveforms from one radio to another in 1 or 2 months with 2 or 3 people,” which was the goal. Instead, he says, “it takes 100, 200 people a year.”

The vendors aren’t the only culprits, obviously. The real problem has been that the requirements were fouled from the beginning, and didn’t really spell out what DOD hoped to get out of SDRs — migration from a universe of different radios with unique transmission profiles and protocols down to a smaller set of waveforms and IP-based protocols; and modular design that allowed for low cost (5 to 10% of initial cost) upgrades to extend the life of the equipment out into the future.

The Software Communications Architecture was supposed to make everything easy to port around for JTRS radios– it’s based on CORBA, POSIX and some other very old standards. But it didn’t, because, first of all, the program ran into a giant pile of scope creep early on, and it’s now nearly 20 years into it and has only delivered one interim set of radios to warfighters. Also, early on, the programs under JTRS were all being run by the various services without joint coordination, and…well, the end result was that the platforms were highly divergent.

To say the least, vendors have not been excited about the government’s licensing terms for JTRS — that the government owns all the code for perpetuity. JTRS maintains a library that radio suppliers can check out code from to port to their radios–theoretically reducing the cost of entry. And multiple suppliers are supposed to be certified for each platform set, creating competition. But there’s still some considerable barriers to entry for would-be suppliers (particularly, say, multinational companies and smaller manufacturers).

All of that makes the JTRS platforms pretty expensive. And Jost says that if SDRs based on SCA aren’t cost effective, the DOD will probably turn away from them. DARPA apparently hates SCA (probably because it’s based on CORBA), and the Wireless Network After Next (WNAN) project that BBN is doing with DARPA is software based but not based on SCA, because of the added development cost.

Jost said that SCA doesn’t make that much sense for users on the edge of the network–that would be, handheld radio users–because of the cost. This may come as a surprise to the folks working on JTRS’s Handheld-Manpack-Small Formfit (HMS) radios, and to the JPEO JTRS team which is hoping the services will pick up its Rifleman Radio and HMS-based systems for those very edge users.

There was also the comment by Jost that I Twittered earlier: “No one would put a product on the shelves at Best Buy that required a T-1000, or like a 10Gigabit connection to work properly. They’d go bankrupt. But DOD does that all the time.” He was speaking in reference to some of the new C4ISR applications being pushed out of various DOD acquisition programs. Applications, as he noted, move faster in technology than the DOD’s network does–given it’s going to take 30 years from the startpoint of JTRS to deploy the last GMR radio, there’s a lot of legacy out there, and the term “disadvantaged user” covers just about everyone in DOD who isn’t bolted onto a wired network. So the those creating all sorts of new tools to push data to the warfighter have to be aware of the realities of the DOD GIG — the edges are slow, and they aren’t getting faster quickly.


7 thoughts on “It's the cost, stupid, DOD's deputy asst. secretary for C3 says

  1. Dr. Jost is spot on regarding the SCA’s lack of success being due to the lack of vigilence in complying with the standard from the radio platform and waveform perspectives, resulting in proprietary implementations with costly upgrades and porting requirements. The customer – the JTRS program office and the military user community – should demand predefined levels of SCA compliance without waivers and delivery within schedule limits or the work share is rebid to other parties. Pressure on contractors will force them to pursue the most competitive options available – and COTS SCA Operating Environments and development tools ARE currently available with better performance, smaller footprints, multi-language support, much lower total cost of ownership AND all already SCA 2.2.2 compliant.
    So much time and effort has been invested in the SCA, shouldn’t the government attempt to recoup that investment with enforcement policies that impact the pockets of offending contractors and vendors?

  2. Pingback: jtrs rant « The SDR Blog

  3. a says:

    Part of the problem, perhaps, is the people that know nothing about the SCA who simply repeat what they hear. Unfortunately and as usual, we always hear about those that failed. Those that tried to use the SCA without any expertise in component based designs or middleware. The SCA is only software after all. Right?! How difficult can it be? These are the ones that only ever used a real time operating system to flip an “in-use” bit every other second. These are the ones that have spent their lives building ASICs and that still have hard time accepting an FPGA in their designs. But the world has changed, customers want their radios to be more than a dedicated piece of hardware.

    Unfortunately, reporters/bloggers never talk about the presentations/papers from companies like Harris, Ultra, Thales, Selex, and customers like US SOCOM and US MILSATCOM users stating that SCA radios are even better than their traditional radios. They never get quoted.

    Mark Turner, from Harris, has made a number of presentations that provide metrics comparing traditional radios to SCA radios. Folks from Selex have made good presentation about the awesome performance they get using OIS ORBexpress with a proper pluggable transport. But I guess that’s not good news material. It’s more fun to bash CORBA and rant against stuff. Because that way, you don’t need to understand anything.

  4. packetrat says:

    Hello, a-
    I’ve covered SCA radios in other places — like Defense Systems — in a fairly positive light. And I personally think there’s a lot going for SCA – I’ve seen the Harris Falcon III radios, the Thales radios, and they seem to be getting a lot of positive response from the people using them. But like I said, there’s a perception in some quarters (that would be in radio programs outside JTRS, and particularly at DARPA) that SCA is too heavy a load to carry. They’ve left SCA out of the WNaN research. Land Warrior could have benefitted from SCA, too, but that’s a whole other post.

    The bottom line, really, is that there are some who look at SCA and think JTRS, and look at JTRS and see a program that’s almost 20 years old now (for reasons having very little to do with SCA), and transfer all the negative connotations associated with JTRS’ past with SCA. Also, yes, I agree with you about failure to follow good software architecture, and all the other engineering points there. There’s a great deal of FUD as a result. There are good tools available for doing SCA work, and if you follow a solid architectural approach to doing SCA it can be a thing of beauty. But there are a lot of folks without those skill sets in the market who just want to get product there, and at a management level don’t want to make the upfront investment because of the uncertainties, and therefore take a marketing tack to undermine SCA with customers.

    What Ron Jost was saying, and what I was trying to place in context, is that SDRs have to bust through a perception of being cost-ineffective at the edge, and the DOD has to do a better job of expressing cost-effectiveness as part of the requirements up front and certifying vendors based on that. There’s a mission reason for SOCOM and MILSATCOM to have SDRs that goes beyond cost-effectiveness — they need the flexibility of SDRs. But there’s a large class of users who use unclassified edge communications for whom flexibility may not be as high a factor in selection as, say, cheap repair or replacement.

  5. Steven A. MacLaird says:

    A few short comments supported by facts and my history as the commander of the JTRS JPO from Jun 1, 2001 to Apr 2005, as well as my current experience with multiple programs as a consultant. I have 3 points to make:

    1) JTRS has not been around for 20 years. Either Ron Jost was misquoted or mispoke. The JTRS first funding was a round III Program Budget Decision (PBD)in the FY99 Budget. This means that it’s conception was not budgeted for prior to Nov/Dec 97. The decision survived the Pentagon Budgeting process and was forwarded for Congressional approval for the Fy99 budget which was approved in Oct 98. The JTRS JPO was stood up in Nov 1998 with a small group of individuls who spent the first year obtaining approval for proof of concept develpment contracts that were awarded in the summer/fall of 1999. Those 4 contracts matured and delivered the proof to proceed with the effort in 2000 – 2001. Upon my arrival in Jun 2001, only 2 documents necessary for the concept development phase was accomplished. The other 24 were had yet been initiated. The JTRS JPO along with help of the Ground Mobile Radio team at Ft Monmonth led the way to complete this massive amount of paperwork in 13 short months that lead to 5 contract awards between July and Aug 2002. Public Budget Information and Contract awards will support the assertions above. POINT: Program initiation Nov 1998 – Current time = 10 yrs 4 months, not 20 yrs (the development contract is what delivers product). Time from 1st contract award for development to present = 6 yrs 8 months. I agreee with Dr. Josts assertion we did not deliver on the expected requirement which was Jan EMD units for testing and Dec 07 Low Rate Initial Product (LRIP) deliveries. No other program in history has had to deliver a new standard architecture (SCA); New Security requirements; New computer generated capabilities vs HW solutions; SW capability known as Waveforms (Wfs) simultaneously. Note the average DoD program from initial development contract award is 15 yrs. JTRS is still inside of that window and is delivering products or surrogut products today.

    2) Successes not Touted: Products are being delivered, however management decisions have been made. In May 2002, the JTRS Program funded Thales to build a JTRS Enhanced MBTR Radio (JEM). That program delivered a product to testing 14 months later to be tested. That product is the preferred radio of choice by our special operations forces world wide over its predessor. Harris has on their own IR&D, built a JTRS Certified radio that has sold thousands of radios to warfighters with DoD/NII’s approval. The Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Factor Radio (HMS) is on schedule and impressing DoD & Services on its capability and enters Low Unit Testing (LUT) in early April. Rifleman Radio is a spin off of HMS and is leading the way in JTRS Network radio’s. Other JTRS Spin offs of capabilities are being briefed and contract arrangements are being made with 1st teir coalition partners by multiple JTRS Vendors. 22 Wfs have been delivered. Most have been put on shelf while 5 – 6 are being ported amoungst radios. Note, porting has not gone as well as we predicted. At least 5 Operating Environments (OE’s)have been developed and delivered. Prism Tech Americas, Inc (PSA) has bench marked their Core Framework (CF) Tooling, and OE and considered the smallest on the market (less than 1MB). The JTRS Joint Technology Lab (JTeL)has selected PSA’s tools as a prime test tool for Wfs, CF’s and OE’s to aid in SCA certification and computer code generation. General Dynamics who built the Digital Maritime Radio in the 90’s has transformed a derivative to be JTRS capable and requested it to be tested by the JTRS PEO Office. GD inhouse self tests have indicated a stagering success rate of test requirements. Ground Mobile Radio (GMR); HMS; Airborne Maritime Radio (AMF); Mobile User Objective System (MUOS); Naval Maritime Radio; Multi-Role Tactical Common Data Link (MR-TCDL) contracts have been awarded utilizing the SCA. Other contracts within DoD,DoJ;DoT and HLS have been awarded with the SCA being a part of the proposal. There is a Blackberry type product that utilizes concepts of JTRS fielded today that runs multiple capabilities. POINT and BOTTOM LINE: JTRS is delivering, just not in the 48 months that DoD desired.

    3) SCA 2MGhz – 2GHz: It took the JTRS JPO, 3.5 years to gain support and certification of two international commercial standards groups (the Software Defined Radio Forum (SDRF) and the Object Mgt Group (OMG). I am unaware of anyone attempting to do a new standard (it wouldn’t make scense to do that). Those 2 groups were involved and participating in an SCA 3.x that would address the Above 2GHz (A2G) frequencies. Althought the JTRS JPEO put this standard on the shelf in the summer of 2005, many of the A2G programs have use the 3.x std as their basis of contract award (NMT and MR-TCDL) and the JTRS JPEO utilized SCA 3.x to migrate from SCA Version 2.2 to 2.2.2 that is the req’s std today. This can be verified by searching the JTRS JPEO Website.

    In conclusion, it’s easy to complain about progress, especially when their are huge obstacles that have to be overcome. I appreciate the hard work of military and civilain members of the JTRS team, both past and present. I also appreciate the opportunity to present some of the facts that rarely get shared. The JTRS JPEO has a mighty path in front of them. Their Government and Contractor teams are capable of meeting the tests that are in the near term. Support vs critique with help them significantly. Finally, the fielded products within DoD and DoJ are getting rave reviews by the men and women who are using them and have true operational understanding of what legacy products provided vs the JTRS product and see the benefit of the future. I would expect we will see more of that in the next 12 – 18 months. At that time the program will be 8 yrs and 3 months into the making(Oct 2010), almost half of the DoD acquisition timeline average.

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