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Fri May 10, 2013, 09:34 AM

Army Radios: Contractors Lobby Congress Against Competition


Army Radios: Contractors Lobby Congress Against Competition
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on May 09, 2013 at 2:41 PM

As the Army prepares to choose the new builder of its handheld digital radios, the incumbent contractors are tryiing to convince Congress to keep other companies out. The incumbents are General Dynamics, which publicly apologized to the Army over its half of the program last year, and Rockwell Collins. The Army’s own chief of acquisitions, Lt. Gen. William Phillips, told the Senate Armed Services Committee just yesterday that “the industry partners that were not a part of the program of record” — i.e. the troubled JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio System) program, which had contracted Rockwell and GD — provided “radios that were cheaper, better capability and met almost all of our requirements in most cases”. The service, he said, was committed to “full and open competition.”

We saw a similar play already last year, albeit slightly later in the legislative process, when Reps. Dave Loesback and Trent Frank offered an amendment – later withdrawn – that would have required competitors to meet stringent conditions that effectively ruled out radio-builder Harris and other outsiders, thereby protecting General Dynamics. This time it is co-incumbent Rockwell Collins, which splits the current contract with GD, that’s leading the charge.

General Dynamics is no shrinking violet, circulating its own briefing on Capitol Hill saying the “radios have built-in competition (already)” between it and Rockwell Collins, who have “the only radios that have met the joint services’ requirements, having successfully competed rigorous testing exercises.” Within those rather strict limits, GD endorses “full and open competition.” The original requirements were drafted in 2004.

But Rockwell Collins’s approach is far less subtle. “‘Full & Open’ re-compete strategy is less effective than ‘Dual Sourcing’” – i.e. the current split between Rockwell and GD — read slides the company is circulating all over Capitol Hill. “‘Winner Takes All’ (WTA) strategy impacts Industrial Base…. Losing vendors may exit the Army ground networking market…. Reduces competition for the radio system the Army wants.”

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