Claire Heininger, U.S. Army
FORT POLK, La. — When they deploy to Afghanistan this summer to assist in the drawdown of U.S. forces, the Soldiers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, will have a new edge.
The unit will be the first to use an on-the-move communications network that stays connected over vast distances, providing information throughout the brigade down to the lowest echelons. That capability will be critical as U.S. troops work closely with the Afghan forces, take down fixed infrastructure and become increasingly mobile and dispersed in their operations, leaders said.
“This is much needed in Afghanistan,” said Brig. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, deputy commanding general for support, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). Like their counterparts in the 4th Brigade Combat Team, or BCT, the Division’s 3rd BCT will also be deploying as a Security Forces Advise and Assist Team, or SFAAT, with the new network later this year.
“Imagine you’re a Soldier and you need information on a given area, or you want to see where units are located to your left and right,” Piatt said. “You don’t want to have to come back to headquarters; you don’t want to have to force a transmission over a radio net just to get that. You want to have that information readily available. (This network) allows us to do that on the move, and allows us to do it dismounted as well.”
Known as Capability Set 13, or CS 13, the package will allow the 10th Mountain units to utilize advanced satellite-based systems — augmented by data radios, handheld devices and the latest mission command software — to transmit voice/chat communications and situational awareness data throughout the SFAAT. On patrol inside mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles configured with components of CS 13, leaders will be able to exchange information and execute mission command using mobile communications technologies, rather than having to remain in a fixed location to access the network.
The Army targeted the two brigades as the first to receive CS 13 capability because they require advanced communications to carry out their advise-and-assist mission in Operation Enduring Freedom. While the Afghan forces will be taking a lead in operations, the SFAAT units will have the network capabilities to support with situational awareness and needs such as calls for air support, artillery support and other reach-back communications.
After several months of new equipment training to familiarize Soldiers with CS 13, the 4th BCT is now immersed in intensive final preparations for deployment. The prep includes a several weeks-long Joint Readiness Training Center rotation where they will use the gear in realistic operational scenarios based on the SFAAT mission.
The 10th Mountain brigades are also receiving lessons-learned and recommended tactics, techniques and procedures, known as TTPs, for using the equipment that were developed during the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, process.
The semi-annual field exercises involve 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, who use networked equipment as they execute mission threads in the rough terrain of White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The NIEs were used to integrate the CS 13 network and validate its performance prior to fielding. They also produced voluminous Soldier feedback that was incorporated into vehicle designs, handheld device configurations, software features and other elements of the capability set.
Capt. Joseph Perry, a company commander with 2/1 AD who has participated in several NIEs, said he looks forward to seeing how the SFAAT teams will ultimately use the network in theater.
“I’m really curious to see what their feedback is,” he said. “I’d like to see the circle complete.”
The brigades’ deployment with CS 13 will be the culmination of a total Army effort to quickly field the capabilities, spanning dozens of commands and locations and requiring constant coordination among network and vehicle project managers, production facilities, brigade staffs and fielding and training professionals. Along with the sophistication of the equipment, the fielding effort was unique because it marked the first time the Army delivered a complete package of network technologies that was integrated up front, rather than providing each system independently.
“This is the way the Army needs to conduct business for this type of fielding,” said Lt. Col. Bill Venable, the Army’s system of systems integration “trail boss” assigned to 4/10. “Synchronizing equipment deliveries, vehicle touches, training and other elements makes sense for communications systems that are integrated across the BCT, and helps reduce the burden on the unit operating in a time-constrained environment.”