Army keeps tight grip on tactical network project
Battery of tests will ensure equipment functions properly when fielded
Army Col. William “Chuck” Hoppe is project manager of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (PM WIN-T) system at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical. As program manager, Hoppe is responsible for the Army’s communications on-the-move program and satellite communications terminal/antenna programs. He spoke recently with Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg about new developments with the program, its future road map and the effect of budget cutbacks.
DS: Late in 2010, the WIN-T program was awarded an Increment 2 low-rate initial production contract, which is the culmination of a split LRIP process in which limited production was staged over a period of time based on milestones. Please explain that.
Hoppe: Back in the March 2009 time frame, we did a limited user test at Fort Lewis, Wash, and like most tests, we learned some things from the test community and the soldiers about things that either broke or that they wanted fixed. So as part of the original acquisition strategy, we had a two-split LRIP so that we can continue down this test/fix/test kind of paradigm to make sure we got good stuff going out to the field.
Then the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] wound up splitting that first split again. I went from a two split ... an LRIP-1 and an LRIP-2, to an LRIP-1A, an LRIP-1B and an LRIP-2. In the March 2010 acquisition decision memorandum, the [WIN-T] program office was required to come back with two things. One was a reliability and effectiveness growth plan to basically get after reliability and effectiveness of equipment. Those are basically measured by mean time between failure and mean time between effective failure function. We went through a scoring conference with the test community and wound up with 16 failure modes, as we call them.
That was the first requirement. The second half of the requirement was the incentive fee plan for the contract to incentivize the contractor to meet the reliability growth factor numbers…to go above what was the basic memo. The contractor gets a say in that, as well, so it’s a negotiation. The negotiations went on longer than the time frame that [Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics] Ashton Carter asked, [which was] in late May. We went back in early June with the reliability and growth plan, and they fully understood where we were at with the contract negotiation. We just submitted that plan to [the director of operational test and evaluation] in February because, as you noticed, we awarded the final definitization contract on Dec. 30 [to prime contractor General Dynamics C4 Systems].
And that led to a September 2010 acquisition decision memorandum, which gave me both LRIP-1B and LRIP-2 authority.
So that’s all the mechanism that has happened. What does that really mean, though? What it means is that we have a plan for all of those 16 failure modes. We’ve closed them all out. The last government witness test was in early January, and we briefed out the [Overarching Integrated Product Team] chair. We briefed him every month as we executed the plan and closed these failure modes.
And what that really means is not only did we do the analysis, find out the root cause, agree upon a fix, but then the fix was implemented, put in a configuration control, and put into the program configuration item, whatever it was. Then it was taken through a series of tests again that culminated, in each case, with the government witness test to validate that we had indeed closed that failure mode. Of course, that fix rolls into the production representative piece.
So that’s what we’ve been doing in the interim to get us between these two LRIP decisions.
DS: What is the near-term road map?
Hoppe: Everything is gearing towards the initial operational test, which is my next big decision point. We’ve got to take this through Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, and that right now is shaping up to be the April/May time frame of calendar year 2012. There’s just a bunch of things that have got to happen between now and then, not just for [the technology] but then to prove out production lines, make sure that the prime contractor and all the subs can meet production quantities, for example.
All of the fixes we just talked about now have to be incorporated, and we have to make them production representative, meaning it’s going to be the[hardware] that these soldiers are now going to be trained on, get their manuals for, and go fight with. And so that means we have to be able to meet safety release requirements. You can’t have stuff breaking apart inside the vehicle while it’s bouncing around because it becomes a safety hazard for the crew, the vehicle and the equipment.
So we’re getting to the details of no longer developing to make sure that the equipment is going to perform as we want it to perform but developing it so that it’s going to be producible, reliable, maintainable and, frankly, setting all the conditions so that when we start fielding this, the Army has a full and complete system.
DS: Everyone’s talking about how programs will be affected by budget cuts and the possibility of a yearlong continuing resolution that freezes fiscal 2011 funding at fiscal 2010 levels. What do you see for WIN-T?
Hoppe: I hate to speculate about money because money always gets people excited. But just so you and I are on the same sheet of music, what the continuing resolution basically means to the program office is I have to assume basically the funding profile of the previous year. So if my funding profile for 2011 was not significantly different than 2010, then I’m in good shape. And that is, indeed, the case for Increment 2. In Increment 3, there is a slight delta, but it’s not huge.
Now, if you can imagine, if this had happened two years ago for the Increment 2 program, where I was getting ready to come out of [engineering and manufacturing development] and go to LRIP, and I had to buy a bunch of things, it would have had an impact because now I would have had to have all the money to buy all the equipment that we just put on contract.
So in my case, the timing is not significantly bad. Now there’s still the whole issue of being incrementally funded for the year, but we’ll work through that. Those potentials become execution issues. But in terms of the availability of funding for the Increment 2 program, there’s no impact for this year’s [continuing resolution authority].