Less than two weeks after Army officials announced they plan to nix the service’s $6 billion battlefield network backbone, leaders are emphasizing the need to immediately move forward with alternate solutions in order to save troops’ lives.
Amid congressional inquiry, officials said Sept. 27 that the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, program would end as Army leaders reroute funding to alternate capabilities that are more agile, secure and threat-responsive. The move involves shifting nearly half a billion dollars in funding in order to better secure communications in the theater.
“We have two big problems. We have a ‘fight tonight’ issue; we have significant gaps in terms of complexity and vulnerabilities, in terms of the evolution of near-term threats,” Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, the Army‘s G-6/chief information officer, said Oct. 9 at the Association of the U.S. Army‘s annual meeting in Washington.
Lawmakers have roasted U.S. Army officials for abruptly scrapping its acquisition strategy months after submitting its fiscal year 2018 budget without a well-defined alternative.
“There are vulnerabilities we know about now related specifically to anti-jam … so these resources are literally to buy things to fix the ‘fight tonight’ issue. The second part is fundamental process issues. The process we’ve been using to purchase IT is based on large platforms” instead of on the pace of technology.
Crawford said WIN-T and the Army’s related IT and communications problems are the product of more than a decade and a half at war, “a 16-year problem in need of a one-year solution” given the urgency of the situation. But in a broad-reaching, $6 billion morass, what gets addressed first, and where exactly will the money go in order to generate short-term answers?
A top priority will be “deconflicting mission command complexity,” said Gary Martin, program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical. “If you go to any of our [combat training centers], on average it takes 40 to 50 hours just to bring up network. And that’s [because of] a combination of things,” including the complexity of the network and the need to manually configure networks — something that increasingly must be done in short order, on the move.
To streamline, the Army is targeting tools and technology that are less complicated and easier for soldiers on the ground to operate. It’s a problem Crawford and other Army leaders acknowledged has taken a long time and concerted effort to attempt to fix.
Other key areas of emphasis involve toughening troops against interference with satellite communications, including through more use of tropospheric transmission capabilities that extend the network and enable communication amid loss of satellite communication. And then there’s the push to simplify and restructure command posts themselves, making them lighter, more mobile and less susceptible to enemies intercepting signatures and communications that reveal soldiers’ locations.
“There’s a transport piece, a mission command suite part of this, and fixing the command post problem — we can’t wish it away,” Crawford said.
“Peer adversaries have been developing [capabilities] — not just electronic warfare and cyber — with the ability to link sensor to shooter. They’re able to sense us and link to direct and indirect fire capabilities that can kill. Survivability of the command post is based on real threats and the realization that while fighting 16 years of combat, our peers have also gone to school on us and developed capabilities that put us at significant risk if we don’t mitigate that risk.”