Army honchos to meet on future comm systems

Army leaders will meet in early January to decide funding for future Army communications systems, industry officials said.

They said programs under discussion between Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, and Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the service's chief information officer/G-6, include:

* Warfighter Information Network-Tactical: A $10.2 billion effort to develop ground-, air- and space-based platforms and sensors that would give soldiers more mobile communications.

* Commercial satellite communications procurement: A multibillon-dollar initiative to give the service consistent and comprehensive voice, video and data traffic between 2004 and 2008, when WIN-T's will be deployed.

Some defense contractors said the Army remains secretive with its future communications plans. "The Army has not come forward and told us what is going on," said an official with General Dynamics Inc.'s C4 System division, located in Taunton, Mass., working on WIN-T.

Other industry officials said the Army knows the way ahead for its communications. "The Army is being more proactive in moving a communications strategy forward than the other services," said Leslie Blaker, market development director at Americom Government Services' federal office, located in McLean, Va.

Officials in the Army's CIO/G-6 office met this fall with Americom and other commercial SATCOM vendors to discuss policy and requirements, Blaker said. The service wants to collect data in preparation of a report, she said.

The Army in October started Task Force Networks to study service networking and SATCOM demands. Commercial SATCOM vendors voiced concern how the service approached them just months before Operation Iraqi Freedom to purchase transponder time on their satellites.

The Army turned to commercial and military satellites to provide U.S. and coalition forces beyond-line-of-sight communications in Iraq. Commercial SATCOM delivered 80 percent of voice, video and data transmissions in Iraqi Freedom, a flip-flop from the U.S. emphasis on military satellites 12 years earlier in Operation Desert Storm.

U.S. and coalition forces' distributed operations in Iraq caused them to outdistance the Army's Soviet Union-era Mobile Subscriber Equipment-Tri-Service Tactical terminals. The service designed MSE-Tritac to sit on mountaintops in Western Europe, not flat deserts in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the two teams competing for WIN-T wonder if the Army may restructure the program. "I feel WIN-T is in jeopardy," the General Dynamics official said. "I don't know what's happening."

However, the Army's WIN-T program manager said the initiative remains alive. "What I know is at the present time the job of our program office is to execute the WIN-T program," Col. Thomas Cole said in a statement. "There have been no decisions to alter the program in any way."

The Army in late 2005 will select one of the two WIN-T proposals from either General Dynamics, which developed MSE-Tritac, and Lockheed Martin Corp. WIN-T entered the system development and demonstration phase in July, in which the two industry teams will build prototype systems.

Cole said he and his staff do their best to keep General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin updated on program issues. "At the program level we try to communicate in a consistent manner with our industry teams, even though they may each come to us with different questions," he said.


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