In key moments during the U.S. Army’s latest war game for advanced communications gear, the troops’ high-tech new radios failed them.
The setting was the semi-annual Network Integration Exercise in New Mexico in May and June. The radio in question: the General Dynamics Manpack, a backpack-portable version of the Pentagon’s ambitious Joint Tactical Radio System. Voice traffic from the Manpacks was “garbled” and “unintelligible,” according to Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester. In a memo dated July 20, Gilmore declared the Manpack “not operationally effective.” In other words, it didn’t work in mock combat — and it probably won’t work in real combat, either.
But the scathing review hasn’t stopped the Army from doubling down on the meager remnants of the once-mighty JTRS initiative, which aimed to equip the entire U.S. military with hundreds of thousands of cheap, high-tech radios whose smart processors would switch waveforms in an instant, making them the radio equivalent of Star Trek‘s universal translator. Just over a week ago the Army dropped $54 million on 13,000 copies of General Dynamics’ similar Rifleman radio, banking on engineers to work out any bugs like those identified in the Manpack in New Mexico.