The Senate Armed Services Committee, in its fiscal 2018 policy bill, has zeroed out funding for the U.S. Army's battlefield network.
But the House Armed Services Committee is taking the opposite tack, by approving an amendment in its version of the policy bill that asks the Army to consider speeding up the fielding of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2, or WIN-T Inc. 2.
While the Senate Armed Services Committee's bill language has yet to be released, a summary states that it is reducing Army networking programs to include WIN-T by $448 million. The service's FY18 budget request funds WIN-T procurement at $420.5 million.
Senate aides in a background briefing with reporters Thursday said findings from a congressionally mandated study on WIN-T were "concerning," adding, "the view of the committee was that with all of this uncertainty with a pretty damning report about how the program is doing, the view was not to put money into the program this year while the [Army] chief [of Staff] thinks about possibly restructuring and how he wants to proceed forward with it."
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On the other side of Capitol Hill, Rhode Island Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin submitted an amendment to the HASC's FY18 policy bill approved Wednesday that would require the Army to submit a report no later than Jan. 30, 2018, on options for accelerating procurement and fielding of WIN-T Inc. 2. The report would require an estimate of funding needed to field the system to 30 brigade combat teams or equivalent units from FY18 through FY22.
The report would also include a plan to field WIN-T Inc. 2 to all armored brigade combat teams to include armored multipurpose vehicles as well as a plan for integrating it onto the Stryker combat vehicle. A list of potential upgrades for WIN-T should also be provided, the amendment states, to include size, weight, complexity and cost improvements.
House authorizers also want options for fielding an expeditionary command post with WIN-T integrated and upgrade plans for WIN-T Inc. 1 systems to be configured into WIN-T Inc. 2 systems.
House lawmakers signaled their desire to boost the program in a letter in April signed by 178 members encouraging a new fielding approach that would fund the procurement of six brigade sets of WIN-T over the next five years.
WIN-T Inc. 2 has come under fire in recent Pentagon test and evaluation reports and was blasted by several senators as being ineffective and wasteful during a May SASC Army budget hearing, a signal that senators were planning to take some kind of legislative action in the upcoming authorization bill.
And while it appears a congressional battle may be brewing over WIN-T, how big that battle will be remains to be seen.
With House and Senate authorizers divided over WIN-T’s fate, the appropriators still have a say. If Senate appropriators don’t follow suit by nixing WIN-T’s funding in its spending bill, it’s unlikely such a move to decapitate WIN-T would make it into law.
And any decisions on WIN-T at the moment seem premature as Milley is finalizing a network strategy after conducting a thorough review of the Army’s battlefield network and communications systems.
That strategy is expected any week now, according to Milley’s projections.
"Frankly, my concern is these systems may or may not work in the conditions of combat that I envision in the future with this change of character of warfare," he said.
The future operational environment, according to the Army chief, is going to involve having to go up against near-peer threats in contested environments that require small units, operating independently from command, to move almost constantly to avoid defeat.
The first increment of WIN-T fielded can only function — transmitting voice, video and data — when a unit is stopped. The second increment of WIN-T is supposed to provide an on-the-move networked communications capability and can now fit on a Humvee.
Milley, who visited Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, to be briefed on a variety of network and communications programs, listed his concerns about WIN-T: "Line of sight, electromagnetic spectrum, the inability to operate on the move, the inability to operate in large, dense, complex, urban areas or complex terrain and there is a whole series of other things and it is fragile and it is vulnerable," adding the Army is "taking a very, very, deep hard and wide look."
The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson, who has advocated for WIN-T for many years, said the SASC cutting the funding for WIN-T was, "in part, because of misconceptions."
Most of the problems with the Army’s network, he said, are concentrated in the lower tactical internet, while WIN-T is the upper tactical network that uses a more robust waveform and satellite links.
Thompson said the latest version of WIN-T meets "all of its performance requirements" and is the only program of record that can deliver communications on-the-move to commanders at the company level or higher.
Inc. 2 "got a mixed reception" when it first deployed to light units because it had to be carried on a five-ton truck that couldn’t be air-dropped, but General Dynamics Mission Systems, which produces WIN-T, has reduced the size and weight of the equipment in half, and it can now be carried on a Humvee or other tactical vehicles, Thompson added.
Milley has said fixed command posts are doomed in future conflicts and, according to Thompson, WIN-T is the only solution currently available that addresses that problem with increased mobility and decreased footprint.
A likely outcome from Milley’s study of the network, Thompson said, is that he will decide to evolve WIN-T to get it into the force in Europe faster because what they have now won’t survive in a fight in the electromagnetic spectrum.
GDMS has been working to defend the program as it has come under recent fire, even bringing several reporters this month to its Taunton, Mass., facility, where WIN-T is assembled and tested.
Having reviewed the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester’s evaluation of the Army’s network, "these criticisms are really focused on the network radios and not on the WIN-T program," GDMS’ vice president and general manager of ground systems, Bill Weiss, said in Taunton.
Some of the new networking radios, for example, have decreased in distance for line-of-sight connectivity, he said, while in contrast, WIN-T has improved the connectivity that exists from the lower parts of the force structure up into higher parts of the force structure.
"We have WIN-T capability down at the Company level which is connected through mobile satellite communications back through the higher-level headquarters," Weiss added.
Additionally, WIN-T is actually less vulnerable in the electromagnetic spectrum because it’s not reliant on an omni-directional antenna radiating in all directions to stay connected because it uses satellite connectivity, according to Weiss.
Another criticism was that message completion rates were not up to par. Weiss said that while in radio testing there were issues, on the WIN-T side, "all those requirements were met."
Weiss also said GD is working to harden WIN-T to fight in the battlefield of the future, but already the system is less vulnerable since it can work on-the-move and is integrated into smaller, more agile systems, which means it’s less of a sitting duck.
According to industry and defense officials, it’s more likely Milley’s network strategy will decide the fate of the WIN-T than legislation in the NDAA this year, and it’s also more likely that the Army will elect to keep the WIN-T but rework how to evolve it for future warfare against peer adversaries.
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.