The U.S. Army has spent almost $800 million on battlefield network tests that government auditors say are being underused, according to a new report.
The service since 2011 has held five so-called Network Integration Evaluations at a total projected cost of $791 million, according to an August report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The events, held twice a year at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., test everything from radios and smart phones to antennae and other communications gear.
“The Army is not taking full advantage of the potential knowledge that could be gained from the NIEs, and some resulting Army decisions are at odds with knowledge accumulated,” the document states.
The report comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill push to cut the service’s network testing budget in half. The Senate Appropriations Committee wants to cut $93.7 million of what it calls “excessive costs” from the program’s $193.7 million budget for fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1.
The Army plans to buy radios and satellite equipment that have performed poorly or weren’t reliable in evaluations, including the Joint Tactical Radio System’s so-called Rifleman and Manpack radios, as well as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, according to the GAO.
The acquisition programs, which are being developed by General Dynamics Corp., “have demonstrated continued poor performance and/or reliability in both developmental tests before NIEs and operational tests during the NIEs,” the report states. Buying hardware before testing is complete goes against best practices and “increases the risk of poor performance in the field and the need to correct and modify deployed equipment,” it states.
A spokesman for the Falls Church, Va.-based contractor didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.
The Army has called upgrading its battlefield network its “foremost investment priority.”
Soldiers with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, this year deployed to Afghanistan with the service’s next-generation communications system that includes smart phone-compatible Rifleman Radios developed under the Joint Tactical Radio System and Nett Warrior programs.
The Army plans to spend as much as $750 million on the Rifleman Radios, single-channel radios held or worn by soldiers; and as much as $700 million on the Manpack radios, two-channel devices usually worn in a soldier’s rucksack.
The service wants to begin a competition this fall for the handheld Rifleman Radios and award a single company a production contract in 2014.
The second phase of WIN-T, known as Increment 2, is a high-speed, high-capacity communications network for the war zone. It uses radios, satellites and antennae on blast-resistant trucks to provide troops with mobile voice and data communications.
The program in a test last year was found “not suitable due to poor reliability and maintainability and not survivable,” according to a January report from J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester.
The Army says it “has aggressively pursued and implemented corrective actions to address the areas identified for improvement during the previous test,” according to an overview of the most recent network evaluation conducted in May.