A group of 71 members of the U.S. House of Representatives is pressing the Defense Department to avoid transferring funding from a battlefield communications network to pay for more urgent needs.
The lawmakers, most of whom are Democrats, said they support two General Dynamics Corp. programs -- the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, and the Joint Tactical Radio System's Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit, or HMS -- to provide troops in the war zone with voice and data communications, according to a May 10 letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and obtained by Military.com.
"At home, people have access to broadband Internet through mobile devices," they wrote. "In their cars and on the move, they can access GPS and maps, data and voice anytime, anywhere. This is not so for most deployed soldiers. WIN-T and HMS are the answer to this problem."
The letter comes a month after the Falls Church, Va.-based defense giant and its subcontractors deployed hundreds of lobbyists on Capitol Hill to argue against the Army's proposal to shift funding from WIN-T and other acquisition programs in part to pay for the war in Afghanistan.
The service is facing a potential budget shortfall of more than $15 billion in fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30, leaders have told Congress. More than half of that stems from war-related expenses, including higher-than-expected costs to remove equipment from Afghanistan.
The Army wants to transfer $128 million from the WIN-T program as part of a larger Pentagon request to shift several billion dollars in funding for the rest of the year in a move known as reprogramming. Service officials have said they remain committed to the effort despite the proposed budget shift.
"We understand the significant pressure being placed on the budget of the U.S. Army," the lawmakers wrote. "Nonetheless, WIN-T and HMS cannot sustain additional cuts -- including cuts from reprogramming."
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, known as Increment 2, is estimated to cost $6.2 billion, a 64-percent increase in cost from 2007, according to a Government Accountability Office report from March.
Of the 71 lawmakers who signed the letter, 44 were Democrats, according to a Military.com analysis. The largest groups of signatures came from Arizona, where the General Dynamics C4 Systems unit is based, and Massachusetts, where program work is performed.
The letter also seems to support having just two companies make portable radios as part of the HMS program.
"The dual manufacturing strategy of having two vendors produce identical radios during the initial stages of full-rate production ensures that competition and flexibility are built into the program," it states.
General Dynamics teamed with a unit of France-based Thales SA to make the smartphone-compatible Rifleman Radios, which are single-channel radios held or worn by soldiers; and with Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Rockwell Collins Inc. to build the so-called Manpack radios, which are two-channel devices usually worn in a soldier’s rucksack.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer, last year ordered the Army to hold a "full and open" competition for the next phase of production of Rifleman Radios. The service has said it plans to begin competitions for both Rifleman and Manpack radios this year.
Companies such as Harris Corp., based in Melbourne, Florida, and Exelis Inc., based in McLean, Virginia, are also expected to bid.