The US Army and other military services began development of software-defined radios to replace aging analog systems in 1997—long before Wi-Fi, broadband cellular, and high-definition television were even on the drawing board. The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program was supposed to revolutionize battlefield communications, turning soldiers and vehicles into nodes in an all-digital network that allowed data and video to flow as easily as voice traffic.
Little did the people working on the JTRS program know that the product of their labors would take 20 years to start being deployed in volume to troops—and how little of the original scope of the program would ever make it into service. The Army just announced this month its roadmap for rolling out JTRS-based Handheld, Man-Pack, and Small Form Factor (HMS) program radio systems in volume—three years from now. That means it may be 2018 before most soldiers see the radios in the field.
On May 2, at Fort Bliss, Texas, the Army’s HMS program team conducted its first “terrain walk-around” test of the AN/PRC-155 Manpack Radio, General Dynamics’ backpack offering for the program. The tests were in advance of a Network Integration Evaluation test at White Sands—the same evaluation exercise where, in 2011, the Ground Mobile Radio program met its Waterloo. The Army cancelled the GMR program after those tests and after an investment of $6 billion.