The latest version of Congress’ defense authorization bill for 2018 restricts funding for the Army’s embattled combat network, but troops fielded around the world are still relying on the system’s capabilities. To meet that demand, Army officials are accelerating repairs and focusing on a modernization effort for the first part of the program, known as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical’s baseline Increment 1.
“Inc. 1 is fully fielded and we’ll be sustaining that for a while,” said Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, commanding general of the Army’s Communications-Electronics Command. “So that means we’ve got to do the job of sustaining Inc. 1 for a while until something replaces it. So while Inc. 1 is in sustainment, we’ve got to modernize. We’ve got to figure out how to modernize unlike in the past, how to modernize better and faster for the units that already have it.”
A major challenge to modernization efforts is the Army’s shift to a sustainable readiness model. The change cuts the prep time in half and means the service now has three months to reset a unit, instead of six months, Taylor said.
“That reset period is when I have to sustain the WIN-T stuff. It went out on deployment and got used, broken, so on, and now we’ve got to get it ready again,” he said. “That’s the big thing that’s changing in sustaining is Inc. 1 – doing it in half the time we’ve done it before.”
CECOM is taking a couple of different approaches to tackle the problem. For one, officials are investing more in increasing the throughput of the reset and repair process. For another, they’re working with Army Forces Command and other units that own WIN-T systems to establish a prioritization plan to determine which units to take care of first, Taylor said.
“There’s a lot of deferred maintenance in the field…where they haven’t sent their stuff back to the depot level for repair because it takes too long,” he said. “So we’re cutting that time in half. We’ve got to get confidence back up that CECOM will deliver and they’ll get their stuff back in two to three months and they’ll be better off for it and stop deferring maintenance.”
One other step the Army is taking is executing engineering change proposals that reduce the size, weight and power of Inc. 1 elements to make the system more expeditionary, less complex and easier to use. Those proposals also help inform what other, non-Inc. 1 capabilities the Army is going to buy, such as the Transportable Tactical Command Communications or T2C2 early-entry communications system.
While WIN-T writ large potentially faces funding concerns pending a network review and report due to Congress in January, the money for these modernizations to Inc. 1 is separate from the Increment 2-focused controversy related to the Army’s decision to halt fielding. With Increment 1 already fielded and in sustainment, the funding remains in place to modernize with software and hardware to improve Inc. 1 elements such as throughput, bandwidth, electronic warfare and cyber resiliency, and size, weight and power.
That work will be ongoing for the next several years, according to Army officials.