Force XXI, satellite comm big winners

The Senate strongly backed key Defense Department information technology programs, including the Army's Force XXI and Warfighter Information Network (WIN) as well as Air Force and Navy satellite communications projects, with increased funding when it passed its version of the 1997 DOD authorization bill this month.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, in its report on the bill, endorsed investment in advanced technologies - singling out IT - but also warned the services and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to better coordinate competing programs.

The report hailed the Army's Force XXI battlefield digitization program and the Marine Corps' "Sea Dragon" project as, respectively, "mature" and "aggressive" but added that similar Air Force and Navy projects have a ways to go. The committee added $100 million to the Force XXI research, development, test and evaluation account to "accelerate the acquisition of promising technologies for rapid field testing...[and] follow-on acquisition...." This matches the $100 million allocated to Force XXI by the House National Security Committee.

TRW Inc., teamed with Science Applications International Inc., holds a key contract to apply advanced computer and communications systems to the forces the Army plans to test in a large-scale battlefield digitization exercise next year.

In the policy area, the Senate panel supported the establishment of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) - which would combine the Defense Mapping Agency, the Central Imagery Office and the National Photographic Interpretation Center - and recommended that NIMA distribute its products to a wide range of DOD and non-DOD users. The committee envisions NIMA taking on a "vital" national mission to serve the imagery and geospatial information needs of consumers outside DOD.

NIMA would not replace or diminish the role of civilian agencies responsible for mapping, charting and geodesy, "but would facilitate their access to critical national security information, when appropriate, and promote technology exchange through established interagency mechanisms," the report said.

The Senate report also contained language on the Year 2000 problem. It requires that all DOD IT contracts entered into after Sept. 30 have "capabilities that comply with time and date standards established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or, if there is no such standard, generally accepted industry standards for providing fault-free processing of date and date-related data in 2000."

Olga Grkavac, vice president of the Systems Integration Division of the Information Technology Association of America, said industry is "concerned" about this requirement because little, if any, software is fault-free.

(Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has not yet sent the 1997 DOD appropriations bill to the floor, added $5 million for benchmark testing of object-oriented software tools that it believes could help DOD quickly fix old code hobbled by dates that do not roll over to the Year 2000.)

In the authorization bill, the Senate added $40 million to the Marine "Sea Dragon" technology experiment program, which includes advanced command, control and communications components. The bill also provides $18.8 million to procure an advanced fiber-optic backbone and switching systems for Camp Pendleton, Calif.

WIN Wins

The panel also lavished money on key Army programs, including the WIN proj-ect, which it identified as "the No. 1 command, control, communications and computer [C4] item" in the service's 1998 to 2004 budget planning documents. WIN won an additional $40 million to push the development of tactical communications systems "and transition to the WIN modernization effort."

Industry leaders peg the total value of the WIN program in the multibillion-dollar range, but Lt. Gen. Otto Guenther, Army director of C4 systems, does not envision a large-scale procurement along the lines of the current Mobile Subscriber Equipment built by GTE Corp.

In another move to back the Army's battlefield data programs, the Senate committee plunked down an additional $20 million for the procurement of Enhanced Position Location Reporting System gear from Hughes, which the Army uses for a high-data rate radio. This hike brings total EPLRS funding in 1997 to $70 million. The House increased EPLRS funding by $73 million, including $25 million for a version to be fitted into aircraft.

The Navy's Challenge Athena commercial satellite communications system, which operates at T-1 rates, received a sharp $41.7 million boost, with $14.7 million allocated for procurement and $27 million for operations.

The Global Broadcast System, a program designed to bring high-data rate transmission service to Navy ships, won $50.5 million extra from the Senate panel, with $39 million allocated for procurement and installation of shipboard terminals, $7 million for shore terminals and $4.5 million for launch services. Hughes is adding a GBS transmission package to the Navy's UHF Follow-ON satellite constellation.

'Chump Change'

While this increased funding does indicate congressional backing of IT programs, Warren Suss, a communications analyst, said it represents "chump change," particularly when compared with the billions of dollars expended on weapons systems. "Heavy iron still gets the heavy bucks," he said. "IT still is not attracting the kind of money it really needs."

The Senate and House will have to resolve the differences between their respective bills in conference, with a final bill expected before August.

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