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Army Backs Battlefield Network Despite Budget Shift

U.S. Army officials said they support further development of a battlefield communications network even as the service seeks to transfer funding from the program this year to pay for more urgent needs.

The system, known in military parlance as Warfighter Information Network — Tactical, or WIN-T, is a high-speed, high-capacity communications network for the war zone. The next phase of the program, called Increment 2, uses radios, satellites and antennae on blast-resistant trucks to provide troops with mobile voice and data communications.

The General Dynamics Corp.-made product is one of a handful under review this month as part of the Army’s so-called Network Integration Evaluation, an ongoing series of semi-annual exercises at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The Falls Church, Va.-based manufacturer has lobbied against the service's request to transfer funding from the program.

"We have a lot of confidence in the system," Col. Rob Carpenter, director of systems integration for the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said during a May 9 conference call with reporters. "We continue to pursue it."

The Army wants to transfer $128 million from the program as part of a larger Defense Department request to shift several billion dollars in funding for the remainder of fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30, mostly to pay for higher-than-expected war costs. The service is facing a potential budget shortfall of more than $15 billion, leaders have said.

"A lot of it was based on obligation rates and where the money was," Carpenter said of the request. "WIN-T just happens to be a program with a lot of money in it and the money hadn't gone out to contract yet.

"It's not a confidence issue at all," he added. "It's just [about] available funding."

The money was available because the Army decreased the number of brigades set to receive the communications gear this year to four brigades and two division headquarters -- down from an initial eight brigades. That decision stemmed in part from the evolving mission in Afghanistan.

The White House is pressing for a faster withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. President Obama said in the State of the Union that the number of American troops in the country will be cut by half, to about 34,000, next year. The war “will be over” by late 2014, he said.

The Army requested a total of $1.23 billion for the WIN-T program in fiscal 2013, according to Pentagon budget documents. That figure includes $893 million for procurement, $278 million for research and development and $55 million for spares. It asked for $1.28 billion for the effort in fiscal 2014.

The second installment of the program is estimated to cost $6.2 billion, a 64-percent increase in cost from 2007, according to a Government Accountability Office report from March.

The Army has called upgrading its battlefield network its “foremost investment priority.”

WIN-T is at the heart of those efforts, though in a test last year the second phase of the program was found “not suitable due to poor reliability and maintainability and not survivable,” according to a January report from J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester.

The Army “has aggressively pursued and implemented corrective actions to address the areas identified for improvement during the previous test,” it said in an overview document of the systems under review.

During the conference call with reporters, Col. Dave Wellons of the service's Operational Test Command said the network is "more stable" and soldiers are better trained on how to use it. "We'll still in the process of gathering data" on its performance, he said.

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