Boeing Army Computer System Costly, Unreliable, Lawmakers Say
The Boeing system “has yet to demonstrate desired performance levels in testing, has very large power, space and cooling requirements and is projected to cost $450,000 each,” said a statement by the House and Senate armed services committees. There would be 81 systems per brigade.
Combined with the Army’s new Joint Tactical Radio, the Network Integration Kit costs $970,000 per vehicle. That “may be unaffordable to procure and deploy” to the Army’s 45 active duty brigades, according to the statement accompanying the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill spelling out policy.
“The committees urge the Army to reevaluate its requirements” and the panels said the service instead “could pursue upgrades” to the 88,000 vehicle-tracking systems, bought from Northrop Grumman Corp.
Among the issues during combat tests in September, the NIK system “did not provide secure voice communication” and, overall, the Army test unit “expressed little confidence in the NIK performance,” said a Dec. 16 Pentagon test report.
The language and test report are a setback for the No. 2 defense contractor as it attempts to rebound from Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ April 2009 cancellation of its $159 billion Future Combat System for the Army.
Boeing retained a role on only one program of five created after the termination. It involves overseeing construction and integration of the NIK network, small unmanned drones and a robotic ground reconnaissance system for detecting an enemy.
Pentagon Review Today
Boeing received a $138 million contract in February 2010 to equip one Army brigade with the computer system. The Defense Acquisition Board, the Pentagon’s top weapons purchasing panel, is scheduled today to review the program along with several other Army projects.
The panel will review the program’s progress and assess whether the Army should buy two additional brigade sets of equipment from Boeing.
Boeing Defense, Space & Security unit spokesman Matthew Billingsley said the company is working closely with the Army in preparation for the review “so it would be premature to comment” or speculate on the potential dollar value of any additional contracts.
“The program has made significant improvements in system performance, usability, and reliability over the last year and we are working with the customer to meet program affordability goals,” he said.
The integrated computer network is intended to host the latest communications, radio systems and software. It’s designed to ease the transmission of voice communications, still pictures, videos and data from ground sensors to troops.
“We will continue to work closely with the Army on the development and fielding of its tactical network, including completing the delivery of the first brigade capabilities in early 2011,” Billingsley said.
Army spokesman Paul Mehney said in an e-mail the Pentagon review “will take a careful look” at the system’s “maturity, military utility and affordability.”
Mehney said it was premature to comment on the congressional language and test report but “the Army is firmly committed to delivering the network throughout” brigades and down to foot soldiers.
Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore wrote in his report “overall, the test unit expressed little confidence in NIK performance.”
Army testers “identified significant information assurance vulnerabilities” when the system was hit with simulated cyber attacks, said the report obtained by Bloomberg News.
The Boeing system “experienced a frequent degradation” in audio volume and quality, “forcing” units to use older radios “or in some cases, runners,” to convey battlefield messages, said the test report.
The system also has long re-boot and start-up periods that contributed to complex trouble-shooting procedures, limiting its “usefulness in supporting tactical operations,” the report said.
The network improved its reliability over 2009 tests but still fell short of its requirement -- demonstrating it could operate a “mean time” of 79 hours between aborted missions -- against a threshold of 112 hours, the report said.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org;
Bloomberg moderates all comments. Comments that are abusive or off-topic will not be posted to the site. Excessively long comments may be moderated as well. Bloomberg cannot facilitate requests to remove comments or explain individual moderation decisions.