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FCW.com May 23, 2005

Off-budget funding keeps programs going

Army IT is served a big helping from supplemental spending bill

By Frank Tiboni

The Army now holds the distinction of annually spending more money on information technology than any other military service does. At $7.3 billion, the Army's IT budget for fiscal 2005 surpasses the Air Force's IT budget for the first time.

About $2 billion of the Army's $7.3 billion comes from an emergency supplemental spending bill that the president signed earlier this month. The remaining $5.3 billion is from the 2005 defense budget. The supplemental bill is valuable because lawmakers can approve it in less time than they can complete the traditional budget appropriations process, a senior-level Army official said at a budget briefing earlier this year.

In the 2005 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror and Tsunami Relief and the fiscal 2006 budget request, which lawmakers are still negotiating, the Army's IT spending priorities are radios and communications systems.

IT spending accounted for $2.8 billion, or 3.7 percent, of the supplemental bill's $75.9 billion military allocation. The $2.8 billion in supplemental funds included $1.6 billion, or 57 percent, for radios and communications systems. The bill also contained $1.2 billion for tactical radios for the Army and Marine Corps and $432.3 million for the Army's Joint Network Node (JNN).

JNN is the Army's interim mobile battlefield communications system. Three of the seven divisions that use it will receive funding through the 2005 supplemental budget. They are the 1st Cavalry, 25th Infantry and 82nd Airborne divisions.

The IP-based JNN provides a bridge between the service's current Mobile Subscriber Equipment-Triservices Tactical terminals and its future Warfighter Information Network-Tactical equipment. JNN offers voice over IP, videoconferencing and expanded access to the military's systems.

Through the supplemental bill, the Army received $767.4 million to buy additional Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (Sincgars) devices. The radios can operate on any of 2,320 channels between 30 MHz and 88 MHz, providing support for mobile battlefield communications.

Army officials learned from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that soldiers need systems that provide access to voice, video and data communications when they operate out of one another's sight in desert and mountain regions. JNN and Sincgars give soldiers that capability, said John Pike, a military expert who is director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonpartisan defense research organization.

"The radios and the communications system that the Army had were designed to operate in the extremely dense, static European battlefield," Pike said.

Knowing the Army's need for additional radios, manufacturers have jockeyed to become suppliers. One manufacturer unsuccessfully tried to amend the emergency supplemental bill by requiring the Army to find a second supplier for the AN/PRC-148 Multi-Band Inter/Intra Team Radio, which Thales Communications now makes.

Felix Boccadoro, director of business development and legislative affairs at Thales, said the Army desperately needs the AN/PRC-148 radio, which falls under a $136.3 million improved high-frequency radio appropriation in the supplemental bill.

"The Army wants to buy more Thales Communications' AN/PRC-148 radios that they currently use, are very happy with, have about 15,000 units of and need very quickly," Boccadoro said.

 


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