What happened to the multi-billion dollar project aimed at replacing the outdated communication systems used in combat with new and modern wireless networks for troops in war zones? Has it reached a dead end?
Network Modernization Program For The Army
The program has been marred by bureaucratic, budgetary, and technical problems and hiccups over the past several years since its inception but the Army is not about to give up. The difficult times in the defense budget are forcing the Army to prioritize other needs but they still consider modernizing the network as one of the highest priorities. This was explained by Brad R. Carson, the Army Undersecretary in May when he visited Fort Bliss in Texas. The network modernization requirements include a family of:
- Digital tactical radios
- Mobile satellite-communications systems
The Army’s program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical or PEO C3T, Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes is in charge and responsible for building the network. Hughes’ office oversees a major procurement of new tactical radios which took 15 years and $9 billion in development costs before the project took off.
Getting The Green Light
In May, the Army was given the green light by the Pentagon to start procurement in large quantities of tactical radios classified under the “handheld, manpack, small form-fit” (HMS) program. According to the PEO C3T spokesman, Josh Davidson, they are working to release a final request for proposals later this year including:
- Finalizing the draft of HMS manpack RFP
- Final coordination phase with the Contracting Command of the Army on the RFP for HMS rifleman radio
Production By 2017
Davidson said that by the first quarter of 2015, bidding would be open for the two RFPs. The radios would need at least another year for testing, and when vendors are finally selected production of the radios would start by the year 2017.
Major Procurement Program
And while the Army seems to have succeeded in this major procurement program, it is likely that the Army will add another radio in response to concerns raised about the performance and efficiency of the HMS devices. The budgetary restriction has also prompted the Army to revisit the earlier plans to supply rifleman radios which are more compact and portable than the HMS radios, to every soldier, and manpack radios to every platoon. In the early stages of the HMS program planning, vendors were expecting future sales totaling:
- Small airborne networking radios – 7,000 units
- Rifleman radios – 120,000 units
- Vehicular four-channel radios – 2,000 units
- Manpack radios – 70,000 units
The shrinking defense budgets have made these projected numbers now seem unrealistic but industry and government leaders told National Defense that while the HMS program is not in danger, the Army is seriously considering the larger radio portfolio. The Army has been conducting “network integration evaluations” over the course of seven technology rehearsal exercises at Fort Bliss, and other tests being done at Fort Benning, all aimed at collecting feedback from soldiers. And the Army may consider radio types that would be fielded to mounted and dismounted soldiers depending on the final analysis of the soldiers’ feedback.
Different Radio Types According To Portability
The Army may consider providing a two-channel portable radio for dismounted soldiers while the heavier manpack including accessories such as the ANPRC-77 handset would be installed in vehicles. There is also this proposal to provide the lighter rifleman radios to team leaders, manpack radio sets to company commanders, and two-channel handheld devices to squad and platoon leaders.
Has the Army finally gained a better understanding of what it really needs?
3 thoughts on “Moving Forward: Army’s Network Modernization Program”
I don’t expect the Army to give up and scrap this project. After all, their motto is that failure is not an option. I’m sure they will eventually workout all of the bugs within this network. I hope one day, this leads to more affordable satellite phone service. As of now, the satcoms are only feasible for rich people with disposable income. It’s a luxury item for consumers.
I’m assuming this new, state of the art network will not have a BYOD policy. Of course not. BYOD networks introduce a number of security risks and this is exactly what the military does not want. This is probably going to be a totally secure network. But one thing is reality: whatever can be developed can also be hacked. I know China will be interested in the launch of this network.
I am a believer that a single, secure and simplified network is a fundamental enabler for the new Army Operating Concept, “Win in a Complex World. It would seem that a network modernization remains a top Army priority in order to deliver information dominance for an agile, expeditionary Force 2025. It seems to me that the Army’s focus is to continue robust fielding of incremental network upgrades, while also making targeted investments for short-, mid- and long-term technology enhancement.
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