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Key Pentagon IT Programs Survived 2013 Budget Cuts Mostly Unscathed

Defense Department file photo

Though the Defense Department must absorb an extra $41 billion in funding cuts between now and the end of the fiscal year, key information technology and communications program emerged relatively unscathed from the sequestration process in the 2013 omnibus federal budget signed by President Obama on March 26.

The Defense Information Systems Agency had its $1.3 billion budget request filled, minus a $10 million cut for circuit maintenance. Likewise, the Military Health System saw its $1.5 billion information management operations budget approved. 

The Air Force won approval of its $125 million budget request for the Air Force Enterprise Network, which will serve  850,000 users at 129 locations worldwide. The Army supercomputer program procurement budget was fully funded for $129.4 million.

Army tactical communications systems took the biggest hit of all communications programs in the 2013 budget. A total of $536.8 million was chopped from two key projects as a result of delays in contract awards. This includes $346.8 million slashed from the battlefield, long-haul Warrior Information Network-Tactical, Increment 2 program and $190 million from the Joint Tactical Radio System program for manpack radios.

The Navy’s Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services, which will provide ships with a common network system, had its budget request sliced by $25 million to $316 million.

Congress added $109 million to the Special Operations Command budget to install high definition, full-motion video systems on manned and unmanned aircraft to better eyeball the battlefield. It was deemed a critical capability by Special Operations commander Adm. William McRaven.

The Air Force budget included $1.6 billion for operation of a version of the Northrop Grumman long-range, Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, which Pentagon analysts found to be more expensive to operate and not as capable as the manned U2 surveillance aircraft in January 2012. The Navy’s budget request of $51.1 million for a maritime version of the Global Hawk was fully funded.

The Navy budget also includes the requested $124.7 million to fund the service’s unmanned helicopter, the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout.  The Army’s funding request for its version of the Air Force Predator UAV -- the medium range Gray Eagle built by General Atomics -- was slashed $104 million to $414 million due to schedule delays and funds remaining from prior years.

Lawmakers said they were concerned about policies and procedures governing the use of military drones in domestic airspace and access by law enforcement agencies to information those systems collect. The Air Force has policies in place “designed to ensure constitutional protections and proper separation between the military and law enforcement,” but the budget noted that it’s not clear if the other services or Defense agencies have such polices. Congress directed the Pentagon to develop consistent policies on the sharing of UAV surveillance information with law enforcement agencies.

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