The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), one of the Army’s marquee communications programs, once estimated to cost $10 billion, has exceeded its approved program baseline by 25 percent, putting the total cost at $12.5 billion, James Finley, deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee hearing last week.

Finley said his office will deploy Integrated Product Teams — better than Unintegrated Product Teams — to determine if the new unit cost estimates are reasonable and the management structure is adequate to control costs of the WIN-T program under development by an industry team led by General Dynamics.

Call me a cynic, but I have a hunch that because the Army does not plan to fully field WIN-T until 2014, there may be a few more billions added to the program’s final bill by then.

Finley’s IPTs will also try to determine between now and this June whether there are alternatives to WIN-T that deliver equal or greater capability.

JNN rocks
WIN-T is intended to provide tactical units on the battlefield with broadband, IP-based voice, video and data communications, a job performed quite well during the past few years by the Joint Network Node at about a tenth of the cost of using commercial gear, including satellite terminals from DataPath and routers and voice-over-IP systems from Cisco.

The Army has fielded JNN to every infantry battalion operating in Iraq and has started to push the gear down to the company level, providing maneuver unit commanders with the ability to make a VOIP phone call to anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world.

JNN does not operate on the move, but our pals at General Dynamics, which currently holds the JNN contract, awarded on a sole-source basis, and the Central Command say they expect to fix that problem.

JNN has been so successful that the Army has decided to make it a formal program of record, Claude Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, told the House Armed Services Committee last week. Bolton said the Army plans to fully fund JNN through 2013 and expects to run a competitive procurement as follow-on to the General Dynamics contract.

The choice between JNN and WIN-T seems like a no-brainer to me: Spend money today on gear that works today vs. spending mega-billions more on something that might not work seven years from now.

Guard major general to run Northcom?
That’s a recommendation buried deep in a 177-page report delivered to Congress last month by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, led by retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, who’s also a vice president at Science Applications International Corp.

The report said that because of the Northern Command’s homeland defense and civil support missions, it makes sense to tap a top Guard or Reserve officer to lead the command. 

Although this is logical, I bet that the active-duty forces are not going to give up command of an outfit based in Colorado Springs when there are a lot of active-duty generals and admirals who love to ski in between their golf games.

The report also states that top levels of the National Guard have only an informal relationship with the Homeland Security Department, and have difficulty in communicating during natural disasters, such as in the relief operations during Hurricane Katrina.

Based on my experience, no one has good communications with DHS. I wonder if the National Guard Bureau ends up in DHS voicemail hell like I do.

WiMax a win in Iraq
The Army’s 35th Signal Brigade proved that for long-haul, terrestrial communications, commercial WiMax gear can easily meet broadband requirements. The brigade, according to an article in the Signal Command’s Army Communicator magazine, deployed 40 WiMax radios to Iraq. The radios have a range of about 30 miles and can handle IP traffic at a data rate of about 20 megabits/

For short-rate range, higher-bandwidth communications, the brigade used free-space optical laser gear that provided throughput of 100 megabits/sec at a distance of just more than a mile. That is great throughput even if maintenance required the use of an old-fashioned dust cloth after sandstorms.

The magazine did not say how much this WiMax and free space optical gear cost, but I bet it was less than about a month’s worth of development spending on WIN-T.

Oh my gosh, a ewe lamb disaster
I don’t know exactly what constitutes a ewe lamb disaster, but the Senate’s version of a 2007 war supplemental bill passed last week includes $13 million in emergency spending for a Ewe Lamb Replacement and Retention Payment program for counties designated by the Agriculture Secretary as disaster areas.

What a concept, pork legislation for sheep.

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