Bottom Line Up Front on the Army’s fiscal 2013 budget request: communications and rotary wing aircraft win, most new ground vehicles live to fight another day, and the service’s modernization plans actually look pretty secure. While the service is being forced to trim about 80,000 soldiers from its ranks over the next five years, today’s budget makes clear that it is still serious about investing in upgrades to existing platforms, and in testing and evaluating new technologies to modernize the force.
The numbers that jump out at you are the $3.6 billion the service wants to spend on its top three rotary wing aviation programs and the $10.6 billion it has earmarked for its ground vehicle programs.
But the sleeper hit of the Army’s 2013 budget may just be its network and communications modernization program encapsulated in the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) effort which takes place twice a year down at Ft. Bliss Tx. It is budgeted for $214 million in today’s spending plan. The program puts an entire Brigade Combat Team (BCT) into the field for weeks of operational assessments of dismounted and vehicle-mounted radios, smart phones, tablets, sensors, and surveillance equipment, while linking them all together though a single robust battlefield network.
The goal of the program is to field “capability sets” to eight BCTs starting in fiscal 2013. Each set consists of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T)—the network that ties all of the communications equipment together—the Harris 117G radio; a variant of the Company Command Post; and the next-generation Blue Force Tracking, or FBCB2/BFT, system.
The request for WIN-T is up a big 15 percent from last year for a total of $1.2 billion, which will advance the procurement of Increment 1 and Increment 2 of the network. Another key for the modernization program is the often-troubled Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, slated to receive $1 billion in 2013, down from its $1.2 billion request in 2012. In a blow to the program, Army cancelled Boeing’s JTRS model last year, and is preparing to evaluate two new radios to replace it this spring: BAE’s GMR Low Swap radio and the Northrop Grumman SDMD.
The Army’s spokesman for the modernization program, Paul Mehney, told me recently that in order to ensure that the capability sets will integrate smoothly into the BCTs, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command is working on programs to train soldiers on the new equipment once the capability sets are deployed.
Mehney also said that the NIE has expanded to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Md., where the Army is “working almost seven days a week putting hundreds of radios through that lab….its a very good relationship with industry because a lot of the time we find quirks and industry is able to come in and fix it in a matter of days, and get up and running again.” And the NIE concept is finding more buy-in across the Army as well. “There’s more than ten program executive offices involved in this process now,” he says. “The Army Material Command though their R&D center is heavily invested in this process now, CERDEC R&D center is running the assessments at Aberdeen, and they’re going to provide industry an assessment of what’s coming out of the labs.”
Finally, the service is also requesting 5,226 Ground Soldier Systems, for $103 million. The long-running project formerly known as Land Warrior / Nett Warrior has been a struggle for the Army, as efforts to design a light weight, wearable communications suite kept running up against the physics of networking a soldier on the battlefield. But the Army thinks that it has finally figured it out. Currently deployed with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan, the device is little more than a smart phone plugged into a Rifleman Radio, but it allows the soldiers to pull up maps, text each other, and share intellignece information. Both products are made by General Dynamics.