Army moves ahead on battlefield comm

Awards contract for further development of WIN-T, including mobile capabilities

In the latest step in its troubled effort to field a modern mobile communications network for the battlefield, the Army awarded a $921 million development contract last week for radio and satellite networking gear to General Dynamics and its primary subcontractor, Lockheed Martin.

The contract covers Increments Two and Three of the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program, including development of WIN-T's mobile capabilities and early fielding of the technologies in Increment Two. The third increment calls for the continued development of WIN-T's components to enhance their functionality.

Since discovering shortcomings with its Cold War-era Mobile Subscriber Equipment battlefield radio equipment in 2002 during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army has struggled to develop a procurement strategy for new battlefield communications equipment that balances its need to field mature, fully functional equipment with the requirement that it issue replacement gear quickly. The Army set the program's total procurement at $10 billion.

'We think that the incremental approach is right on target.' ' Bill Weiss, General Dynamics C4 Systems

As the latest approach to the procurement, WIN-T divides the acquisition process into four distinct phases to prevent additional missteps, according to Army officials. The revamped effort extends and replaces the Army's prior procurement effort, known as the Joint Network Node-Network program, which the service rolled into its latest initiative as Increment One of WIN-T.

The Army's design of the WIN-T acquisition process addresses earlier concerns about the procurement processes and is intended to deliver new capabilities as soon as they're ready, while also coordinating the rollout of new equipment to ensure that it's fully interoperable with equipment already in use, Army spokesman Timothy Rider said.

Nevertheless, the Senate Appropriations Committee, in its report earlier this month on the Defense Department's 2008 budget, identified several potential programmatic and technological problems with the WIN-T procurement and asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent study of the program.
The committee marked up DOD's budget Sept. 12 and, in its accompanying report, asked GAO Comptroller General David Walker to conduct an independent assessment of WIN-T and submit a report to DOD's congressional overseers by June 30, 2008.

'This report shall include an assessment of the restructured program's ability to address its past problems; its integration and synchronization with the requirements of the Future Combat Systems program; a technology readiness level assessment; an identification of key remaining risks in the program, its acquisition strategy and management structure; accuracy of cost estimates,' and any other relevant areas the GAO identifies, the Senate committee's report said.
In a July 2005 report, GAO concluded that the communications components of the Army's FCS programs, including WIN-T and two other programs ' the Joint Tactical Radio System and the System of Systems Common Operating Environment ' were running behind schedule because of immature technologies.

The Army and its contractors think they've now hit on an approach that will satisfy the program's critics. 'We think that the incremental approach is right on target,' said Bill Weiss, vice president for tactical networks at General Dynamics C4 Systems. 'We're getting capabilities out to the warfighter as quickly as we can, the equipment is right on [schedule], and the equipment is working.'

In the contracts awarded last week, the portion that covers WIN-T Increment Two is valued at $126 million and is for development of a satellite and radio network that will give the Army its first mobile capabilities under WIN-T. Tests of the equipment in Increment Two will begin in late 2008 and early fielding of the capabilities is scheduled to begin in 2009.

The portion that covers WIN-T Increment Three is worth $795 million and covers additional development of network components to augment their capacity, security and mobility, with a focus on finalizing the physical construction of the system's radio gear and networking equipment and enhancing the mobility of the equipment. Early testing of Increment Three capabilities is scheduled to start in 2011.

Increment Three also includes development of the WIN-T equipment that will be carried aboard the Army's FCS vehicles and the design and construction of components so that they meet the size, weight, power and cooling requirements of the planned combat vehicles.


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