Monday, June 25, 2012

Is the Army Heading for Another Acquisition Debacle, this Time on WIN-T?

Over the past twenty years the U.S. Army has achieved a record of successfully implementing major acquisition programs virtually unblemished by success. The list of failures is quite long: Crusader, Future Combat System, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, Aerial Common Sensor, etc. The most successful “new” vehicle program is the Stryker wheeled combat vehicle, a derivative of an existing platform originally intended to be a temporary bridge to the Future Combat System. Rather than giving up, however, the Army has re-entered the acquisition process with no fewer than three new vehicle programs: the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), intended to replace the highly successful Bradley, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) to replace the Humvee transports and the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) which will take the place of the venerable M-113s.

The Army leadership says that its number two modernization program, right behind the GCV, is its new tactical communications network called the Warrior Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). WIN-T is designed to provide secure and near-certain communications from the individual soldier all the way to the global information grid. The current version of WIN-T system, called Increment 2, will deliver continuous, secure, on-the-move broadband networking for mobile formations from division and brigade down to company level. WIN-T could transform ground combat the way the global position system changed air warfare.

So why has the Army been moving so slowly to procure WIN-T, particularly when Congress allocated the funds to do so? News reports are circulating that the Army will be forced to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated for WIN-T but unobligated as of this date. This means that the Army will have to redefine the procurement strategy and the system’s contractors must provide a new, certainly higher, price for the system. As the cost of WIN-T increases and the time to deployment lengthens, it becomes more difficult to justify the program. As one observer noted, the danger is you go into a “death spiral” in which there are fewer dollars each year to spend on a program that becomes more expensive over time. This is pretty much what happened to other Army modernization programs.

The Army’s apparent mismanagement of WIN-T is also a lesson as to why it is so difficult for the Department of Defense to achieve meaningful cost reductions in its procurement expenditures. Even for an IT network that relies to a large extent on commercial hardware and software, when procurement decisions are delayed and quantities reduced the price goes up. No clever analysis or strategies based on so-called “Should Cost” calculations can make up for basic mistakes such as those the Army seems determined to make on WIN-T.

Dan Goure, Ph.D.
Early Warning Blog, Lexington Institute

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