Army stuck in a WIN-T quandary

“Army Communications: Networking, or Just Not Working?”

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The Army is struggling to build and pay for its future battlefield communications system. Army officials must figure out how to transition the Joint Network Node (JNN), a commercial, IP-based mobile communications system rapidly deployed to soldiers in Iraq, to the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical.

WIN-T is the service’s planned mobile broadband system scheduled for deployment later this decade. Program and funding issues exacerbate the conversion challenge, service and industry officials say.

The Army has spent $1.7 billion to equip seven divisions with JNN, a program funded through Defense Department supplemental budgets and awarded to General Dynamics via a sole-source contract. The Army is developing a contract proposal for the eighth version of JNN, and companies have pressured the service to open it to competition.

The Army, which has budgeted about $10 billion for WIN-T, awarded a system development and demonstration contract last year to an industry team led by General Dynamics. JNN provides some but not all WIN-T capabilities. Army officials are discussing how much funding will be necessary for WIN-T.

Any discussions of WIN-T involve the Army’s standard program, budgeting and performance reviews, said Claude Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, the service’s top acquisition official. He spoke during an interview earlier this month at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual winter conference.

The JNN-to-WIN-T transition faces several program and funding challenges, said Vernon Bettencourt, the Army’s deputy chief information officer, during an Industry Advisory Council luncheon last week.

JNN provides communications when soldiers stop quickly on the battlefield, while WIN-T offers communications for soldiers on the move, he said. One solution to the conversion challenge might be to make JNN the foundation of WIN-T and add some of WIN-T’s capabilities to JNN, he said.

Because WIN-T is still an Army requirement, the network’s introduction may only be a question of timing, said William Weiss, vice president of tactical networks at the General Dynamics C4 Systems business unit.

WIN-T and the Joint Tactical Radio System form the communications transport layer for the Army’s Future Combat Systems. With JTRS delayed and FCS planned for full deployment in 2014, DOD and the Army may want to field WIN-T on a schedule linked to those programs, Weiss said.

The Army and the WIN-T industry team successfully tested a prototype in November 2005, using ground, air and space networking technologies to provide soldiers with high-bandwidth, mobile communications. Weiss said the companies will be ready to move forward with WIN-T in the ninth version of JNN in 2007.

“We can add WIN-T capabilities to JNN-equipped units,” Weiss said. “We believe that the best way for the Army to realize its vision of a network-centric future force is to build its network underpinning incrementally, starting as soon as possible.”

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