Battlefield networks remain Army's top modernization priority

The Army is asking Congress for $1.9 billion in 2013 to field two tactical communications systems, Barbara Bonessa, the service's deputy budget director, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Monday. Bonessa noted the Army continues to view battlefield networks as its No. 1 modernization priority.

Both systems experienced problems in field tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in 2011.

To support ongoing network modernization, the Army's proposed procurement budget includes $556 million for the Joint Tactical Radio System, which would cover the purchase of 5,900 8-pound short-range Rifleman Radios; 4,600 larger and longer-range backpack radios; and 110 Airborne and Maritime Fixed Station, or AMF, radios, Bonessa said.

The 2013 budget request also includes $893 million in procurement funding for the Warrior Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, the service's backbone tactical communications network. The money would pay for 2,166 terminals and associated equipment, enough to equip seven brigade combat teams, she said. In addition, he budget includes $278 million for research and development and $54.9 million for spare parts for WIN-T.

The second increment of WIN-T, developed by General Dynamics C4 Systems, is designed to provide commanders moving across a battlefield with broadband and voice communications via satellite or a relay through an unmanned aerial vehicle. Troops who tested the on-the-move capability of WIN-T at the Army network integration evaluation exercise at White Sands in November 2011 said the system had problems that made voice communications difficult.

Spec. Allison Ferrone, radio operator for the commander of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, which conducted the evaluation, said at the time, "voice comms over satellite are broken up. We can hear people crystal-clear, but they have a hard time hearing us." She attributed the breakdown to a problem endemic to any satellite system -- latency, or the time delay a signal experiences as it makes a 50,000-mile round trip up to a satellite and back down to the ground.

Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department's director of operational test and evaluation, said tests reported to Congress in January showed that the JTRS backpack radio, also developed by General Dynamics C4 Systems, experienced a range of problems in the June 2011 network integration evaluation at White Sands.

That radio "demonstrated problems with reliability, transmission range and voice quality that restricted the unit's ability to accomplish its mission. These same problems were observed during the curtailed period of developmental testing," Gilmore reported to Congress.