As they tested the second generation of the Army’s tactical communications network, Soldiers like SFC Michael Rayfield discovered firsthand the operational impacts that an on-the-move network reaching down to the company level will bring to the battlefield.
“Company and below is usually where the greatest amount of continuity loss occurs, but now, with WIN-T [Warfighter Information Network – Tactical] Increment 2, the company commander has more command and control, essentially what a brigade commander would have,” said Rayfield, a Brigade Senior Signal NCO for 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD), the maneuver element for the operational test. “And the company commander can now provide the brigade commander that real-time scenario from the company or troop level, all the way down to the individual Soldier.”
The three-week WIN-T Increment 2 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E), which wrapped up on schedule at the end of May, was conducted in conjunction with the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation 12.2.
To help facilitate this critical two-way flow of information, WIN-T Increment 2 introduces the Soldier Network Extension (SNE), which will be installed on select vehicles at the company echelon to extend the network from the brigade down to the company level. Using its on-the-move satellite communication systems, the SNE will be used to heal and extend lower-echelon tactical radio networks for geographically separated elements blocked by terrain features. It allows Soldiers at the company level to connect into the WIN-T backbone and provide them with “bigger pipes” for more capacity to reliably send and receive messages.
With the SNE extended down to the lower-echelon radio nets, such as the Wideband Networking Waveform, Soldier Radio Waveform, Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, Soldiers can now “touch” the communications network backbone. On-the-move platforms with Army radios at company level can then complete an all-encompassing network.
Company Soldiers can also uproot from their stationary locations and maneuver on the battlefield in their SNE, while retaining situational awareness through various mission command capabilities such as Tactical Ground Reporting, Command Post of the Future, and Joint Capabilities Release (the second generation of Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below), as well as email, chat, and Voice over Internet Protocol functions. They can continue to collect data on the enemy and known targets, then provide that data to the brigade. Before these capabilities were available, company commanders would “fight the fight” and then have to return to the tactical operations center (TOC) to report the information and requirements needed to move forward in battle, Rayfield said.
“Now they can do that on the fly and continue to move forward, instead of having to come back and report information to the brigade or battalion TOC,” he added.
The Point of Presence (PoP) is another WIN-T Increment 2 configuration item that improves on-the-move communications and situational awareness. It will be installed on select platforms at division, brigade, and battalion echelons. The PoP also enables mobile mission command by providing on-the-move network connectivity. But, unlike the SNE which provides strictly beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS (satellite)) communications, the PoP possesses both LOS (terrestrial) and BLOS capabilitiesAmong the many mission threads required during the IOT&E, units “jumped” their TOCs, which required them to tear down the TOCs, move into uncooperative and unpredictable environments, and then quickly reestablish the TOC and the network to full operational capability. During the “jumps,” WIN-T Increment 2’s on-the-move mission command capabilities enabled commanders down to the company level to retain their situational awareness and remain in continued communications right from the front seat of their vehicles.
“No longer do Soldiers have to deal with the latency in communications from jumping a TOC from one location to another,” said SFC Enrique Balderrama, 2/1 AD S-6, Combat Net Radio. “They are continually aware of the battle and in constant touch with the force even when they are beyond the walls of the TOC.”
- AMY WALKER is a Staff Writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting Project Manager WIN-T, which is assigned to the U.S. Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications – Tactical . Walker holds a B.A. in psychology graduated from the College of New Jersey.