WASHINGTON — Congress is planning to limit funding for the backbone of the Army’s tactical network until the service delivers a report on how it plans to modernize its tactical communications and data networks, according to language in a conference committee report of the fiscal year 2018 defense policy bill made public Nov. 9.
The Army decided after an extensive review of its network that it would halt delivery of its controversial Warfighter Information Network-Tactical system — or WIN-T — to reboot the service’s entire tactical network.
The service, in September, tried to make the case on Capitol Hill that it needed to shuffle roughly half a billion in funds from WIN-T and a few other key network components into capabilities that will deliver a more survivable, mobile and hardened tactical network.
But Congress expressed deep skepticism that the Army was going to get it right this time and lamented the billions in wasted dollars invested in trying to field WIN-T only to walk away now.
Earlier this year, the House Armed Services Committee in its version of the defense policy bill asked the Army to consider speeding up the fielding of WIN-T Increment 2.
But the Senate Armed Services Committee took the opposite tack, zeroing out the $448 million in funding for the battlefield network.
When the Army pitched its plans to restructure its network, several lawmakers criticized the lack of details put forth. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, called the plan “half-baked” and said she needed to see a much clearer way forward before she could support funding the proposed changes to the network strategy.
The conference report language says no more than 50 percent of FY-18 funding for WIN-T should be appropriated for the program until the Army submits a report no later than Jan. 31, 2018, — just a few short months away — on its way-ahead for “modernizing air-land, ad-hoc, mobile tactical communications and data networks.”
The Army would struggle to move forward with its network strategy without the full amount of WIN-T funding planned in FY-18 reprogrammed elsewhere.
The service provided little detail on how it will reinvest $545 million in FY-18 taken from tactical network programs not aligned with its new modernization approach, but stated it would reinvest $413.8 million in programs that meet operational needs to “fight tonight,” according to a document outlining the strategy, and $131.1 million toward an “adapt-and-buy” modernization approach.
The report language states the Army has to show how the network will be funded and programs realigned in FY-18 and across a five-year plan.
Congress wants the Army to include in its plan “justification, rationale, and decision points for the strategy, including how network requirements are being redefined,” according to the conference report.
And the Army should also include how it will address vulnerabilities identified in the current network against “a modern peer adversary capable of cyber and electronic warfare detection and intrusion,” the report states.
The plan should also include a timeline for upgrading fielded WIN-T Increment 1B systems and a list of planned upgrades and fielding schedules for components of WIN-T Inc. 2 “designed to improve program capabilities, including size, weight, and complexity” and how those might impact the cost of the system.
Lawmakers also wants the Army to include in its strategy a means to reduce the service’s reliance on satellite communications “including procurement and test strategies for more resilient and secure mid-tier line-of-sight capability,” according to the report.
The strategy must also include how mobile, tactical network communications will be fielded to the reserve components.
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.