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.
The report, from Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), Michael Gilmore, indicates that one of the Army's main acquisition priorities, while showing signs of improvement, is was not ready for prime time. The report covers assessments over the last year, providing snapshots of the Army network modernization effort's developmental and technical snafus.
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 network, by nature of the evolving pace of government and industry
technology, is not a static program; instead it is an iterative development
effort where we will always strive to make incremental improvements as
capability becomes available," said Paul Mehney, a spokesman for Program Executive Office Command, Control Commuinication-Tactical.
"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."
The Manpack, made by General Dynamics and Rockwell Collins, is meant to serve tactical units with simultaneous voice and data communications in the field, whether on foot, in a vehicle or at a tactical operations center. and Infantry and cavalry units employed the radio in mounted and dismounted tactical operations as a realistic test.
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.
In addition, To boot, the 35-pound Manpack weighed three times as much as the SINCGARS and radiated enough heat to trigger complaints from soldiers lugging it.
This was not the only unfavorable comparison to SINCGARS in DOT&E's report. The range of the AN/PRC-117G, made by Harris, Corp., wouldn't permit battalion- and company-level communications. Comms for soldiers on foot and a vehicle-mounted AN/PRC-117G had a range of two2 kilometers, while legacy SINCGARS radios had demonstrated a 20-kilometer range in earlier tests.
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."
Several brigade combat teams have used initial production units ahead of full-rate production, stage and a draft request for proposals (RFP) is expected in the coming months. The RFP would create a radio marketplace where in which vendors would compete to fulfill task orders in a , envisioned as competitive environment that spuars "continuous improvement" for the Manpack.
The Rifleman Radio, General Dynamics and Thales Communications, which is the other component of the HMS program, could provided voice communications until a terrain feature blocked its line of sight. Battery temperature was a problem. as Soldiers also complained the radio battery caused first degree burns and discomfort as it exceeded 120 degrees, and an analysis found the battery stopped accepting a charge at 118 degrees.
In spite of these issues, DOT&E waved the Rifleman Radio ahead, recommending the service create a test and evaluation scheme for it to prepare for a as part of plans to go to a full and open competition. It also recommended the service , and that it also proceed to operational testing to support full-rate production decisions for another system, Nett Warrior.
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.
DOT&E also evaluated and found problems with software, the Army-led Joint Battle Command – Platform (JBC-P) networked map-based battle command system for computers in stationary or mobile command posts.
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.