Army to field new net strategy

The Army is on the warpath to fix its networks. With operations in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrating the importance of mobile warfighting communications overseas and reliable networks back home, the Army is looking to bring order to its vast array of computer, satellite and telecommunications networks.

Service officials are planning to battle on several fronts in the coming months. For starters, they will speed development of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) program, which will give soldiers communications anywhere on the battlefield. They also plan to find a contractor to manage Army Knowledge Online, which lets commanders discuss enemy tactics in a secure computer environment via the Internet and allows soldiers to talk to one another and family using the portal's instant-messaging functions. Finally, concerned about the security of their networks, service officials plan to award an enterprise license agreement to one vendor for information assurance.

Army officials are planning to form a war council later this month to review their communication systems strategy and plan for future procurements.

"The Formal Network Review covers everything and where we're headed," said Vernon Bettencourt, the Army's deputy chief information officer. Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, will

oversee the event, with advice from other service leaders including Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the service's CIO. Army officials will talk about how best to manage, maintain, operate, secure and acquire Army warfighting and business communications systems, said Bettencourt, who became deputy CIO in January.

Army officials announced last week they want to hire General Dynamics Corp. or Lockheed Martin Corp. to start building WIN-T this year instead of in late 2005. Both companies are working on prototype systems, which will use ground, air and space-based platforms and sensors to give soldiers more mobile communications, Boutelle said.

The Defense Department and the Army created an interagency group in mid-April to work on speeding the WIN-T acquisition. Department and service acquisition officials will discuss how best to proceed, he said.

It took last year's invasion of Iraq for the Army to realize the immediate need for WIN-T and more mobile communications, said Dan Goure, defense and land warfare analyst at the Lexington Institute, a military think tank and consulting firm in Arlington, Va. "The Army has finally moved from the telegraph and telephone landline era to the [information technology] world and its wireless networks," Goure said.

WIN-T represents the future of battlefield communications, but Army technology is already in transition. Commercial satellites delivered 80 percent of communications transmissions in Operation Iraqi Freedom, a flip-flop from the United States' emphasis on military satellites 12 years earlier during Operation Desert Storm.

To improve Army business networks in America for better support of soldiers overseas, the service will release a solicitation next month to consolidate operations of Army Knowledge Online. The service wants a lead systems integrator to manage the portal's technical and management services, which will improve efficiency and standardization by consolidating several contracts of vendors providing these services, Bettencourt said. Vendors must submit bids for the acquisition by Aug. 1. The Army will award the contract later this year.

Bettencourt did not give the procurement's value. He also said the Army does not know if it will use the new $1 billion Information Technology Enterprise Solutions contract for the acquisition.

Army officials will also consider an enterprise information assurance license to save money and better manage security procurements, Bettencourt said. This year, the Army expects to spend $220 million on information assurance products.

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