Army plans $1.4 billion radio purchase

General Dynamics will likely face off against companies such as Harris and Exelis for production of the Rifleman and Manpack radios.

The U.S. Army later this year plans to start two competitions to buy potentially more than $1.4 billion worth of battlefield radios.

The service wants to spend as much as $750 million on smartphone-compatible Rifleman Radios, single-channel radios held or worn by soldiers; and as much as $700 million on so-called Manpack radios, two-channel devices usually worn in a soldier’s rucksack, according to a source document obtained by Military.com. It didn’t specify quantities, though at least one of the purchases is expected to total almost 200,000 devices.

Competitions for the fixed-price contracts are expected to begin sometime after July 1, with the release of a request for proposals, according to the document. Both awards are scheduled to be issued in fiscal 2014, beginning Oct. 1, and last five years, including a base year and four one-year options, it states.

The Army will hold a forum next month for companies interested in competing for the manpack radios.

General Dynamics Corp., based in Falls Church, Virginia, now supplies the Army with both types of radios. Potential competitors will probably include Harris Corp., based in Melbourne, Florida, and Exelis Inc., based in McLean, Virginia, among others.

The devices are part of the Joint Tactical Radio System, a family of radios in development since the 1990s.

While the Defense Department in recent years has canceled or downsized other programs in the system, it has recently supported further development of General Dynamics’ program, known in military parlance as Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit, or HMS. The Pentagon last year authorized the Army to buy a total of more than 19,000 Rifleman Radios from the company — about 10 percent of the program’s planned quantity — while holding a competition for the next and final phase of production.

The Army is deploying to Afghanistan itsĀ first brigade of soldiers outfitted with Rifleman Radios and smartphones such as the Motorola Atrix, which work together to display secure information such as troop movements.

The Army plans to spend about $3.8 billion in 2013 on communications equipment such as radios, networking and satellite systems, according to a January report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The figure includes about $1 billion in research and development and $2.8 billion in procurement. It expects to spend about $3 billion annually on communications gear for the foreseeable future.