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Army told to spend or lose mobile tech funds
Tactical network plagued by delays
“The comptroller staff is a highly professional group,” he said. “This isn’t a meat ax.”
Mobile battlefield intel
The schedule for the WIN-T project has been slowed by delays in testing, current and former officials said.
The WIN-T is designed to bring high-speed wireless computing, mobile phones and live-streaming video to the front lines, and its backers say imminent spending cuts send the wrong message about how to buy technology.
“It’s a really, really important program,” Mr. Punaro said. “It’s how the war fighter is linked to the Global Information Grid” — the military’s computer network.
“Based on what I know now, [anticipated cuts] would be shocking … a very bad mistake,” he said.
WIN-T is designed to bring to the battlefield the kind of mobile broadband network that any user of a laptop or a smartphone in a Starbucks takes for granted.
But the military has to provide it at a moment’s notice, in any corner of the globe, regardless of the terrain or weather, and in a way that is secure from enemy hackers and robust enough to survive physical attacks.
Such capabilities do not come cheap. Since starting the program in 2008, the Army has spent more than $2.4 billion with lead contractor General Dynamics on the first two stages of the program.
The company says 97 percent of Army units are equipped with the first stage, which provides network access for commanders at the battalion level — units of about 1,000 soldiers.
The proposed cuts affect the second stage, which is to bring the broadband network to mobile commanders and units as small as 100 troops, starting this year, according to a May 30 congressional briefing by Army officials.
The cuts to WIN-T, which could be as much as half of the $813 million appropriated for it this year, are not part of the half-trillion dollars of deficit reduction savings the Pentagon already is committed to starting next year.
Instead, they are part of a multibillion-dollar set of changes to the current budget that the Pentagon will seek from lawmakers to cover $3 billion in higher-than-expected fuel costs.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta testified at a Senate hearing last week that the overage was caused by higher oil prices, the costs of keeping extra naval forces in the Gulf during the spring, and the $100 million-a-month costs of flying fuel into Afghanistan because Pakistan has closed supply routes.
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By Tom Fitton
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