A new report from the Pentagon’s chief cost analyst and weapons tester cautiously approves the Army’s plan for a new tactical network, one that is expected to follow the canceled $6 billion Warfighter Information Network-Tactical.
In a report submitted to Congress April 24, the Department of Defense’s director of cost assessment and program evaluation and the director of operational test and evaluation declared some elements of the Army’s new network approach as “suitable” but said it was too early to assess the strategy as a whole.
“The Army has made concerted efforts to change its path for modernization,” the officials wrote in the report. “The involvement of senior leadership, definition of overarching characteristics, and pivot to an acquisition strategy that includes experimentation represent a major shift from the traditional Army approach. This shift is still in progress and the results of experimentation will inform many of the decisions as to what programs or technology will meet the operational needs.”
The Army’s new tactical network strategy comes after a sweeping review initiated by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley; the strategy also was mandated in the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. It centers on improving governance and pivoting to a new acquisition approach, while also fulfilling critical operational needs. The strategy includes a significant emphasis on an “adapt and buy” model that leans heavily on prototyping.
But the Pentagon report raises some issues with the strategy’s focus on rapid prototyping and “adapt and buy,” including how technologies are chosen and how they are tested for Army-wide viability.
“The inherent limitation with an ‘adapt and buy’ approach to acquisition is that the rigor and conditions with which these technologies have been verified may not be adequate to meet Army performance requirements,” the authors wrote. “Adequate testing includes typical users engaged in operationally realistic missions, a realistic threat, employment with intended basis of issue, and objective data collection to support an assessment of operational effectiveness, operational suitability, and survivability.”
In the report, the evaluators deemed the strategy’s focus on experimentation to inform requirements as “suitable,” but called on Army leaders to continue to refine the selection and testing processes.
CAPE and DOT&E also said the strategy’s requirement for a standards-based network that allows for rapid insertion of new technologies was suitable. But they warned that the strategy “cannot coalesce into a cohesive effort” without prioritizing defined standards and architectures for the common operating environment and a unified network.
The report also noted trouble with the program’s funding. With no approval for a fiscal 2018 realignment request to funnel money away from WIN-T, the strategy’s experimental linchpin is not viable, the authors wrote.
The evaluators also warned that Army leaders may struggle to prioritize the strategy amid broader Army operations and the draw of the status quo.
“The Army may be challenged to execute a viable strategy because of competing priorities coupled with the inertia associated with the existing acquisition programs and processes. These efforts will compete for human and fiscal resources,” they wrote. Furthermore, “without funding, this strategy is not viable.”