U.S. Army’s WIN-T Network Moves Closer to Battlefield

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Acquisition Board has given the U.S. Army the green light to place a $346 million order for the service’s developmental battlefield network, which the service has defined as its highest-priority acquisition program. The board also called for more testing and evaluation before the systems are shipped to up to eight brigade combat teams next year.

The decision — which involves a low-rate, initial-production order — was signed Sept. 25 by Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall, and also approves further acquisition of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2.

The decision will allow the Army to purchase 538 more WIN-T communication nodes, which would bring the service’s inventory up to 938, about half of the total the service says it wants to buy.

The decision comes with caveats, however. During the initial operational test and evaluation conducted in May at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., evaluators identified several issues that need to be addressed by the time the nodes are issued to brigade combat teams next year.

The issues primarily involved the Highband Network Waveform and the Soldier Network Extension, and various reliability issues encountered by the systems.

The deficiencies identified in Kendall’s report are mostly correctable through “training, policy or other procedural fixes,” said Paul Mehney, a spokesman for the Army’s modernization program.

“Less than 15 percent of the issues were really related to hardware or software failures,” he said, “so we’re looking at conducting some follow-on verification and operational tests.”

Mehney added, “We’re going to make sure that there’s accountability as we go through this with the vendor.”

The developer of WIN-T, General Dynamics, maintains that the issues that came up during the operational evaluation have been largely addressed and demonstrated to the government, while a follow-up test in an operational environment will happen “in the next few months,” said Chris Marzilli, president of the company’s C4 Systems unit.

The WIN-T communication nodes “meet all key performance parameters, and it was outstanding with respect to its performance,” he said.

The extension is a vehicle-mounted wireless application that links soldiers to the network while on the move.

Marzilli admitted that “its performance was a little underwhelming, but that’s all part of learning how to fight the network” in a tactical environment.

“They need a spigot for WIN-T at that echelon, that’s clear,” he added. “It’s what applications you run through it, and how it gets measured for operational effectiveness, and that’s what [further testing] will attempt to work as well.”

Marzilli said he expects another two brigades and a division’s worth of nodes to be purchased “within the next 60 days.”

The Army had requested $892 million for WIN-T development and procurement in fiscal 2013. But in a rare move, U.S. Senate appropriators slashed that number to $546 million, citing fears that such funding could create an industrial capability that future budgets could not sustain.