WASHINGTON — The US Army is looking for connections, but it got little love from the Pentagon's top test and evaluation agency over its radio and networking gear, which faulted their glitches in its annual report released Tuesday.
Such glitches won't necessarily doom a program. Ultimately, the Army and Office of the Secretary of Defense will have to ask, " does the program have value and benefit for soldiers and commanders," said retired Lt. Gen. William Phillips, the former military deputy to the Army's acquisition executive.
"No program is going to be perfect in any assessment," Phillips said.
An Army spokesman defended the programs as valuable, stressing that their development is "iterative."
"The program is continuing phased modernization of network capability, always aiming to improve connectivity, simplicity of use, survivability and effectiveness."
During the Army Network Integration Exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, last May, the agency assessed and found wanting one of the key radios, the Manpack component of the Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) program. It deemed the radio "not operationally effective when employed in dismounted operations, operationally effective for mounted operations, and not operationally suitable."
Yet the soldier radio waveform on the device, used for platoon-level voice and data communications, demonstrated a shorter range than the legacy SINCGARS radio — possibly because the Manpack's antennas were not high enough — and one of the satellite waveforms was unreliable.
According to Mehney, the Army is working to address some of findings. He otherwise defended Manpack as providing a "critical capability" to soldiers.
"Soldier observations supported the holistic HMS concept of having a radio that has two channels capable of supporting several waveforms, which enhanced the versatility of use in missions," Mehney said. "This characteristic eliminated the need for more than one radio at any one location."
Nett Warrior is a situational awareness tool that connects through a Rifleman Radio and displays the location of an individual leader, other leaders, friendly vehicles, battlefield messages and enemy activity for tactical units on a smartphone, made by South Korea's Samsung. It was one of the bright spots for the Army.
DOT&E found Nett Warrior merited a full-rate production decision review in 2015.
When the Army and Marine Corps tested JBC-P in May, it would spontaneously reboot. It also "generated numerous false mayday messages and inaccurate representations of blue force icons, which reduced the Soldiers' confidence in the system."
Providing the network backbone for these systems is Warfighter Information Network - Tactical (WIN-T). DOT&E evaluated WIN-T Increment 2, and found improvements within two previously problematic elements, which together provide mobile network infrastructure: the Soldier Network Extension and the Point of Presence.
However, DOT&E recommended WIN-T improve the range of the high band networking waveform, that it conduct more testing and that it remedy its cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
"This is a complex challenge for the Army since WIN-T is dependent upon the cyber defense capabilities of all systems connected to the network, for example, Distributed Common Ground System – Army and Joint Warning and Reporting Network," DOT&E's report says.
Mehney acknowledged that the Army has continuously adjusted reliability requirements for major components of Increment 2, which is noted in DOT&E's report. Modifications before the most recent NIE, he said, were made based on how the equipment has been used by units in operations and in tests, and feedback from those units.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.