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Army fields network systems despite poor performance, GAO finds

Aug. 26, 2013 - 05:43PM   |  
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The Army is eager to equip soldiers with modern networking solutions such as voice, video and data capabilities.

So much so, apparently, that the Army has side-stepped its own test findings showing some of the solutions have continued poor performance and reliability issues, according to a Government Accountability Office report published Aug. 22.

Those networking solutions include the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, an upgrade to the Army’s high-speed and high-capacity backbone communications network that will provide greater command and control and network security; Joint Tactical Radio System Manpack Radio, a two-channel software-defined radio intended to work with existing legacy radios and increase communications; Joint Tactical Radio System Rifleman Radio, a one-channel handheld software-defined radio; and the Joint Battle Command-Platform, which is intended to generate mission command and situational awareness messages, according to the GAO report.

“Without disputing the test findings and their implications, Army leadership indicates that this equipment addresses critical capability shortfalls and operational needs,” the report noted.

But GAO called the Army’s decision to field the technologies risky.

“As a result, the Army will likely have to work with a system that is less reliable than originally envisioned, and develop a new life-cycle cost estimate that reflects the added costs associated with the increased contractor support to keep this less reliable system operating,” the report said.

The Army has spent nearly $1 billion over the past two years conducting preliminary tests of network solutions and completing a handful of Network Integration Evaluations, or NIE. The evaluations allow the Army to determine current and future capabilities of its tactical information network and are also used to inform acquisition decisions.

The Army is struggling to buy emerging network solutions that show favorable results in Army evaluations, mainly due to the Defense Department’s acquisition process, the report said. Although the Army has developed a strategy and acquisition plan to address contract requirements, funding and competition issues for rapidly buying new technologies, the strategy has not been validated and results have not been shared with industry.

“Army officials have stated that the success of network modernization depends heavily on industry involvement but, with few purchases, it is unclear whether industry will remain interested,” GAO said.

GAO recommends the Army correct issues identified during testing, before buying and fielding systems and collaborate more with the test community on its technology evaluations. DoD agreed with the recommendations, in part, but did not provide action items to address the issues.

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