Can commercial software-defined radio replace JTRS? One reader points out why not

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

I wrote a story earlier this month headlined, Air Force plan to cut its JTRS military radio program may acknowledge developments in private industry , in which I suggest that commercial radio communications developments in software defined radio ( SDR ) technology may be surpassing the U.S. military's Joint Tactical Radio System ( JTRS ), and that commercial SDR might eventually render the military's JTRS developments obsolete.

Today I received an astute e-mail from a Military & Aerospace Electronics reader that takes me to task with several solid points, which I'd like to share here. This reader's message speaks for itself, and I thank him or her for bringing these points to our attention.

There is an assumption that the commercially developed software-defined radios (SDR's) could replace the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). This is not true, if the military requirements stay as they are today.

Everyone forgets that the military wants everything small, powerful, with all the bells and whistles, and oh, by the way, you have to pass the NSA security requirements and it needs to fit into this small space.

I once heard a four-star general ask, "Why is my cell phone smaller than my wallet, it is nearly free, and I can talk around the world with it?" That type of ignorance is exactly what gets programs like Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) cancelled.

I would like to have said (but didn't), "but sir, you are communicating through cell towers that have thousands of pounds of equipment, your cell communications are not secure, your cell phone will not operate in extreme conditions, your cannot drop your cell phone from six feet onto concrete and expect it to work, you can't drop your cell phone in a bucket of water and expect it to work afterward, you cannot select the method of communications, good luck using it in the mountains of Afghanistan, and your cell phone is not "software defined," your cell phone can't communicate to other cell phones without going to a cell tower (good luck installing cell towers in every hostile area), your cell phone puts out very, low power (not 100-plus Watts), and finally, it can't communicate to any legacy radios currently in service."

Other than that the four-star had a good point.

The government levies thousands of requirements (in the case of JTRS 40,000 requirements) and then asks why the device is so expensive, costs so much to develop, and then complains when it's late (plus, let's change the requirements continually along the way).

Just a couple points for consideration.


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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

July 2015
Volume 26, Issue 7

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