WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's chief weapons tester has issued a scathing report on the Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio (MNVR), just as the US Army prepares to make a production decision for the system.
"MNVR did not meet commanders' operational needs for a mid-tier network solution," Michael Gilmore wrote in a July 5 memo, obtained by Defense News, to the Defense Department and Army acquisition chiefs.
Gilmore based his findings on an assessment conducted by the Brigade Modernization Command during the Army's Network Integration Evaluation 16.2 at Fort Bliss, Texas, in May. Observations from the previous NIE, in 2015, also were considered.
"During the final focus group, all 39 of the surveyed battalion and company commanders and senior staff recommended that the Army not field MNVR," he said in the memo. "MNVR provided no value added in mitigating the significant impacts to communications and mission execution experienced in a satellite communications (SATCOM)-denied environment."
Whether this spells trouble for a production decision for the MNVR radio remains to be seen. According to a service source familiar with the issue, the Brigade Modernization Command report and feedback collected from commanders using the radio during the NIE differ dramatically.
The source said Gilmore's memo is based almost entirely on the BMC report, which asked commanders if they would use the MNVR radio right now. When asked that way, most commanders responded in the negative because all of those polled believed the radio's current configuration was not optimal.
However, when the same commanders were asked by Army leaders attending the NIE this spring, including Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Allyn, if they would use the capability provided by the radio if fielded, about 90 percent said yes.
Last month the Army determined it has a need for the mid-tier network capability and said it was preparing to make a low-rate initial production decision for the radio that goes along with the network later this summer.
The Army validated the need for a mid-tier network capability at the NIE this spring.
The network connects the HMS family of radios — mostly dismounted, handheld units that push voice communications and data — to battalion- and brigade-level tactical operations centers so that colonels and generals can get line-of-sight data from the radios.
The radio should be able to provide the capability for commanders to see what's happening on the battlefield in satellite communications-denied environments. At the NIE, satellite communications were shut off in order to see if the data could be pushed seamlessly through the mid-tier network instead.
Gilmore himself agrees that there is an "important" need for the mid-tier network capability but argues there should be a better way to get there and MNVR appears not to be the answer. "The Army should instead consider pursuing a mid-tier communications solution that recognizes commanders' tactical need for range rather than high data rate transmission," he writes.
MNVR underwent a limited user test, overseen by Gilmore, at the NIE 15.2 in the fall of 2015. The radio met requirements and passed the test. During NIE 15.2 the radio met or exceeded its requirements in terms of range, operating at three kilometers using the Soldier Radio Waveform and between six and ten kilometers using the Wideband Networking Waveform. The demonstration found that the MNVR well exceeded its range requirement with the use of re-transmission through vehicles and antennas.
During the latest demonstration, NIE 16.2, the MNVR enabled the mid-tier network to push limited data as well as transmit voice communications in a satellite degraded environment, the Army said.
But in his memo, Gilmore takes issue with the range performance of the MNVR and said that brigade- and battalion-level signal staff "were forced to develop communications plans that constrained the units' scheme of maneuver in order to compensate for the limited transmission range of MNVR."
The radio also was deemed "too large and draws too much power to be integrated into the leader vehicles currently employed by Army formations," Gilmore wrote, adding that vehicles had to run an additional eight hours for a total of 14 hours to support MNVR power requirements.
Gilmore also flagged the radio's susceptibility to electronic attacks because the system is constantly emitting a signature that can be detected by the enemy.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.