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Army to Stop Buying Tactical Network Systems, General Says

U.S. Army officials told frustrated members of Congress the service plans to stop buying the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical -- a $6 billion backbone of the service's tactical network -- and search for another system to deal with emerging threats.

"After almost a year of careful review ... we have come to the conclusion that the network we have is not the network that we need to fight and win against a peer threat in a congested or contested environment," said Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, the Army's chief information officer.

His comments came Wednesday during a hearing of the House Armed Service Committee's Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio.

"Our current network does not meet our warfighting needs now, nor do we believe it will meet the future warfighting needs of a high-intensity conflict," Crawford said.

The existing technology, developed by General Dynamics Corp., based in Falls Church, Va., is "neither simple, nor intuitive, and one that demands a heavy reliance on industry-provided field service representatives that make the system work," the general said.

"We've also seen a commercial innovation explosion and exponential growth in technological advances that accelerated at a rate at which our standard acquisition processes could not keep pace," he added. "Neither current nor future adversaries are inhibited by the same processes, allowing them to better exploit new technology to their advantage."

Turner, the panel's chairman, expressed frustration with the Army's track record of missteps and restructurings in the tactical network effort over the past decade.

The service is requesting to shuffle more than $544 million for fiscal year 2018 -- a major change from its budget request, as well as the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act, Turner said.

"Just 5 months ago, you requested over $400 million in Fiscal Year 2018 for the WIN-T program, and indicated that WIN-T Increment 2 was the foundation of your network modernization strategy and mobile mission command," the lawmaker said. "Now you are asking us to realign almost half a billion dollars from existing programs with only limited details as to what your long-term plan is for the network."

Crawford told lawmakers that the Army's shift in strategy is "informed by both internal and external evaluations, and most importantly, feedback from well-informed operational commanders in the field."

The general said beginning in 2018, the Army plans to halt procurement WIN-T Increment 2, then field the all of the equipment already purchased through fiscal year 2021 to "enable our fight tonight capability."

"The WIN-T Increment 1 system that we have fielded throughout the Army; the WIN-T Increment 2 that we now have in our light formations and Stryker brigades, we will retain in that formation," Crawford said.

The service also intends to buy lighter versions of WIN-T, systems recently tested at the Army's Network Integration Exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, Crawford said.

Turner and other lawmakers asked if the Army knew what system it will move to in the future.

"What are you pivoting to?" he asked. "And what you described was a process, not a destination, not a system, not a procurement program. So, and with all due respect, I believe that the answer is, you don't know, right?"

Crawford conceded that the Army does not yet know the answer to that question.

"The answer is we do not have an objective system," the general said. "If there were an objective system on the shelf, sir, we would be trying to go and purchase that objective system."

Lawmakers also asked if the Army has an alternative system for on-the-move mission command capability.

"The alternative system for on-the-move mission command -- between now and fiscal year 2022, we have a system called Joint Battle Command Platform," Crawford said. "It's actually one of the preferred at the maneuver level -- systems and our formations for on-the-move mission command."

The service plans to field JBCP to the entire force between now and fiscal 2022, Crawford said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the subcommittee wanted more details about the strategy than the Army was providing.

"We owe you the actual execution plan for this and we look forward to the opportunity," Crawford said. "Because I know that's what you want to see -- we're talking concept for what we're asking for I understand the risks associated with it, but we would owe you an actual execution plan in how we plan to accomplish this."

As the hearing wrapped up, Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts, told Army officials that she is still not satisfied with what she heard in the hearing.

"Even after testimony today I still feel that your way forward is half-baked, not fully developed and overly optimistic," she said. "My father used to have the saying, 'You may not be right but you're positive.' And in essence I think you're being very positive, but it's not clear that the way forward is actually right."

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