Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer has approved continued production of a General Dynamics Corp. infantry radio that the Defense Department’s chief tester found ineffective and unreliable earlier this year.
Frank Kendall, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, backed the purchase of as many as 3,726 two-channel digital radios for infantry rucksacks and vehicles, in addition to the 100 already under contract, according to an Oct. 11 memo obtained by Bloomberg News. The order may be valued at more than $250 million.
The Defense Department’s testing office in July criticized the Manpack radio and recommended additional testing before Kendall’s office made a decision on whether to increase quantities. The radio, as configured in response to some of its earlier flaws, “demonstrated adequate” range, “but continued to demonstrate poor reliability,” Pentagon test director Michael Gilmore said today in an e-mailed statement.
Kendall also gave other companies such as Harris Corp. a chance to bid on the bulk of the 71,814 Manpack radios the Army intends to buy. In the memo, he directed the service to conduct a “full and open” competition for radios starting no later than July 2013.
The second batch of radios will be used for testing and development until a decision is made on full-rate production and potential deployment in the field, Army spokesman Matthew Bourke said in an e-mailed statement.
The Manpack radio is part of the Joint Tactical Radio System. The Pentagon in July approved production of 13,077 additional handheld Rifleman JTRS radios also made by Falls Church, Virginia-based General Dynamics.
Gilmore said today that his earlier criticism was based on the radio’s performance “in a stressing” environment “where soldiers operated the radios in a manner which represents combat conditions.” Under those conditions, the radio “exhibited poor reliability” and “inadequate” range, he said.
The latest test this month was in a “benign” environment and “not designed to replicate realistic combat conditions nor was it designed to test the full functionality of the radio,” Gilmore wrote.
Kendall said in his memo that the Army needed to ensure the service “addresses deficiencies” identified by the test office and in the latest round of evaluations.
While he didn’t provide details of the latest test results, Kendall said the radio has met criteria he set for proceeding with additional limited production “in a developmental test environment.”
Kendall also directed the Army to perform a thorough “reliability growth analysis” and “develop a detailed plan for achieving required reliability.”
“The Army will proceed in its acquisition strategy of a full and open competition,” Kendall wrote.
Chris Marzilli, General Dynamics’ president of C4 Systems, said in an e-mailed statement that the company expects the contract to be valued at more than $250 million.
The radios use “government-owned, non-proprietary software to not only preserve soldiers’ ability to use legacy radios but also places in their hands transformational capability,” he said.
Asked about Gilmore’s e-mail, Marzilli wrote, “We are pleased with the decision to issue” the order, and “we will support the Army in completing the remaining tasks outlined by” Kendall’s memo.
The radios are made at General Dynamics’ Scottsdale, Arizona, facility.
Harris has repeatedly expressed interest in bidding on the program. The Melbourne, Florida-based company says it has more than 68 percent of the market for such tactical radios.
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