• Army adopts stronger, lighter composite materials

    The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Aviation and Missile RDEC Prototype Integration Facility's Advanced Composites Lab is at the forefront of composite repair in Army aviation. In addition to performing the highest quality composite repairs, the PIF Advanced Composites Lab is creating solutions for the broad spectrum of composite needs in Army aviation. (Photos courtesy of U.S. Army)

    By Heather R. Smith

    REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (July 19, 2013) — In the future, Army aircraft may be made of all composite materials, and the Prototype Integration Facility (PIF) Advanced Composites Laboratory is ready.

    Part of the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center’s (AMRDEC), engineering directorate, the PIF’s advanced composites lab has successfully designed and made repairs on damaged composite aircraft components for several years now.

    From research and development to implementation and rapid prototyping, advancing composites technology is one of AMRDEC’s core competencies that enable the current and future force.

    The PIF advanced composites lab is one of several teams at the AMRDEC working with composites.

    Composite materials are a combination of materials that, when combined, produce a new material with characteristics different from the individual components. Examples of composite materials are fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber. Composite materials may be preferred for many reasons, including increased strength, reduced weight, and reduced production and sustainment cost.

    “We have gotten as strong and as light as we can get with metals, and we’re at the end of what metals can economically do,” PIF advanced composites lab lead Kimberly Cockrell said. “The only way to get stronger and lighter and more capable for the fight is to go to composites.”

    PIF leadership recognized a need for advanced composites repair and began developing a composites capability within the PIF mission to provide rapid response solutions to the warfighter. The program includes repair design and engineering substantiation to show that repaired components are returned to original strength.

    Personnel in the PIF advanced composites lab designed and developed repairs for damaged composite stabilators on the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter and the AH-64E Apache helicopter. Prior to their repair method, the only way to repair an aircraft with a damaged stabilator was to pull off the broken stabilator and replace it with a new one.

    Cockrell said the “pull-and-replace” approach was costing the Army up to six figures per stabilator replacement.

    While the first repair procedures were designed for Black Hawk stabilators, the repair method applies to any solid laminate or sandwich core composite structure, so the procedures and training can be leveraged to other Army aircraft.

    Cockrell is proud of the lab’s achievements. Its repair procedures are the first approved repair for primary composite structure on Army aircraft.

    With integral support from the AMRDEC’s aviation engineering directorate, the procedures for the composite stabilator repairs have been written and are undergoing approval for release by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command (AMCOM) logistics center.

    An important aspect of developing repair methods is working with the repair personnel who will make the repairs. Members of the PIF Advanced Composites Lab have been training Soldiers on the new stabilator repair procedures prior to deployment so that they can request approval to use them, on a case-by-case basis, through the Aviation Engineering Directorate.

    The lab has also trained the instructors at the 128th Aviation Brigade, as well as the AMCOM logistics assistance representatives.

    In addition to training, the PIF Advanced Composites Lab, in partnership with the Aviation Engineering Directorate, played a lead role in developing the Army Technical Manual 1-1500-204-23-11 “Advanced Composite Material General Maintenance and Practices,” as well as in defining the tooling and material load for the new AVIM composites shop set.

    The lab is currently working repairs for blades too, as well as just-in-time tooling for parts with complex curves or topography.

    And in addition to repair solutions, the lab is using composite materials to create solutions for other issues. For example, it has designed and built a composite doubler to strengthen the hat channels that extend from the hinges of the UH-60 engine cowling.

    “When the aircraft is on the ground being maintained, the engine cowling folds out to become a maintenance stand,” Cockrell explained. “Two Soldiers can stand up there with a tool box and work on the engine. Unfortunately, minor damage to those hat channels can cause these (cowlings) to catastrophically fail and seriously injure the Soldiers.”

    “We designed this piece so that — if the hat channel shows any kind of damage whatsoever — you can simply install this doubler over the damaged area; it will restore the cowling to its original strength or better, and two doublers — one on each side of the cowling — adds less than a pound to the overall aircraft weight,” Cockrell continued. “So the pound that you add is well-worth the safety margin you gain.”

    It’s concepts like that, Cockrell said, that the lab is introducing to program managers to show how the lab can help with more than just repairing stabilators.

    “Our goal is to transition the stabilator repair business to other sources of supply, because we know that as soon as we get these repairs fully fielded, there will be new structures and composites issues for us to work,” Cockrell said. “The Apache composite tailboom, new composite cabin frames, new composite cabin floors, and new composite blades are all coming down the pike.”

    “In five to 10 years, it’s all composite,” he said. “So whether it’s fiberglass or carbon fiber or Kevlar or a hybrid, it’s going all composite quickly. And it’s important for the Army to be ready.”

    • AMRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

      RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC delivers it.

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  • Army harnesses sun to reduce casualties from sniper attacks

    By Edric Thompson


    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The U.S. Army is harnessing the elements to help reduce casualties from sniper attacks on forward operating bases.

    The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s research laboratory and aviation missile and communications-electronics RD&E centers — the Army Research Laboratory, or ARL, the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, and the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC — have integrated and deployed wind and solar harvesting systems to provide continuous energy to company-level, force protection systems used by U.S. Army combat units in theater.

    A joint venture by ARL, Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as AMRDEC, and industry, the Hostile Fire Detection Sensor, or Firefly, is a 360-degree surveillance system that uses acoustics fused with Short Wave Infrared detectors to locate enemy shooters for more accurate return fire.

    Firefly detects line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight hostile fire and classifies these as small arms, heavy machine gun or rocket/mortar. It calculates geo-location of the shot and provides self-position and heading in a standard cursor-on-target format. The Firefly can be either a mobile or fixed system, attached to the Soldier’s backpack while on patrol, or mounted at forward operating bases.

    The Firefly system was initially deployed to Afghanistan in May 2012 to support a fires detection requirement. However, deployment sites faced challenges in sustaining conventional power delivery to Fireflies along perimeter walls due to enemy attacks when Soldiers were above the wall line changing batteries.

    “In our attempts to solve the power issue, we discovered that CERDEC had sponsored the development of RENEWS power kits, which offered more complete solutions for charging the power supplies,” said William Lawler, an electrical engineer in ARL’s Sensor Integration Branch. “They immediately provided us with several kits, which we sent to AMRDEC for integration with Firefly and testing. Once it was determined that this solution satisfactorily extended the power supply, CERDEC provided several solar versions of the kits for deployment.”

    The Reusing Existing Natural Energy, Wind & Solar system, or RENEWS, enables the harvesting and utilization of wind and/or solar power and is intended to produce up to 300 watts of energy field usage in silent, remote operations where the supply of power and fuel resupply is difficult or risky, noted Daniel Berka, an electronics technician in CERDEC’s Command, Power & Integration directorate, or CERDEC CP&I.

    RENEWS consists of a wind turbine, three 124-watt flexible solar panels, a power conditioner, an AC inverter, and a battery storage/charging unit that contains six BB-2590 rechargeable batteries; it can be hooked into either the solar panels or the wind turbine for continuous charging. The BB-2590 battery, which was developed by CERDEC CP&I, is lighter than the standard BB-390 battery and features better capacity.

    “RENEWS offers options; solar was preferred in this case, using the solar panels to charge the six-pack of batteries during the day. We connected a cable from the RENEWS kit to the Firefly, giving them 1.2 KW of continuous energy to run the Firefly system. There still was some maintenance to check the Six-Pack and clean the dirt off the solar panels, but the Soldiers are not going up there every day because the solar panels are within the walls, so they’re not exposed to enemy fire,” Berka said.

    Limited pairings of the two systems have gone to theater as a package, with the most recent deployment being April 24.

    “Integration is absolutely a critical, relevant and priority S&T (science and technology) investment, and RDECOM is uniquely positioned to provide this to the Army,” said Dale Ormond, director of U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, known as RDECOM. “We are the only organization that has the flexibility and technical expertise to execute the Army S&T mission across a broad portfolio of services. We can draw on a wide range of strengths and technical competencies from each of our centers and laboratories to develop holistic solutions that meet real operational needs. It provides better technical solutions for Soldiers and it enhances the Army’s ability to be more flexible and adaptive against asymmetrical threats.”

    The integrated solution also provided an opportunity for CERDEC CP&I to gather additional operational feedback to be used in efforts to reduce Soldier load and logistical support, said Pedro Passapera, chief for CERDEC CP&I’s Experimentation and Simulation Branch.

    “Changing power sources and delivering fuel can be dangerous for Soldiers in the field. We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other organizations in order to address small unit power issues while reducing the logistics footprint,” Passapera said.

    “Operational feedback allows us to see areas for improvements that would make the technology more effective for mission support,” Passapera continued. “Other Soldiers will benefit from this because we will use the feedback to make adjustments to the current or next generation system and provide the data back to the appropriate decision makers. This was a perfect fit.” said.

    CP&I has deployed 40 complete RENEWS systems and more than 60 solar systems to units, Passapera noted.

    AMRDEC is seeking to transition Firefly to a program of record in late fiscal year 2013, noted Timothy Edwards, Ph.D., lead for AMRDEC’s Firefly team.

    RDECOM, whose mission is to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers, is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

    “This integrated solution has been very successful and is still serving the warfighters in Afghanistan. Working across RDECOM truly is the best way to support the warfighter,” Edwards said.

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  • Smaller satellite terminal solution being fielded following Network Integration Evaluations

    By Amy Walker


    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 12, 2013) — Taking advantage of lessons learned through several Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) cycles, the Army is fielding to its first unit a new, smaller ground satellite terminal designed to provide high-capacity, beyond-line-of-sight communications to newly digitized command posts at the company level.

    “One of the main goals the Army had in creating the Company Command Post (CoCP) was the reduction of size, weight, and power consumption, referred to as SWaP,” said Lt. Col. Greg Coile, product manager for Satellite Communications (PdM SATCOM), which manages the terminals. “We leveraged the NIE Process to inform a SATCOM solution that would reduce the Soldier’s burden and improve unit mobility.”

    The Secure Internet Protocol Router/Non-secure Internet Protocol Router (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point 1.2 meter Lite, referred to simply as “SNAP Lite,” was chosen as one of the SATCOM solutions to meet the requirement for a small form factor terminal to support the enhanced communication and mission command capabilities of the CoCP. This very small aperture terminal is a rapidly deployable, pack-in-the-box solution that extends the Army’s network and improves situational awareness for maneuver companies.

    An Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB) is the first unit to be fielded under the Department of the Army-directed requirement for CoCPs. The unit is scheduled to receive SNAP Lites, followed by two weeks of new equipment training. ESBs provide communication connectivity to disadvantaged users, often in austere environments, and Army modernization efforts call for an increase in ESB transport capability to improve battlefield communication.

    “The introduction of SNAPs into the company level command post gives company commanders access to those high-speed digital networks.”

    The ESB’s SNAP Lites will be used to support the unit’s worldwide contingency operations as well as potential NIE support in the future. Additional SNAP Lites for the Army’s CoCPs will be procured and fielded as funding is determined, while other CoCPs in theater will utilize the larger legacy SNAPs for their SATCOM requirements.

    “In the past we have always relied on larger aperture satellite dishes, but now we are fielding one that is smaller, lighter and more compact and can fit inside a rapid force deployment,” said John Lundy, SNAP project lead for PdM SATCOM. “The reduction in setup time and SWaP makes the unit more mobile.”

    Like the legacy SNAPs, SNAP Lites provide secure and non-secure satellite communications for the CoCP. The communications and mission command systems that make up the Army’s newly enhanced, digitized CoCP are intended to deliver a new level of advanced voice and data communications to the company level and improve the flow of critical battlefield information.

    “CoCP users can take their mission command systems and plug right into the SNAP on both classified and non-classified networks,” said Michael Sidwell, SNAP systems integration engineer for PdM SATCOM. “With the addition of these beyond-line-of-sight capabilities, the CoCP becomes a hub in battlefield operations where users can exchange critical battlefield information from the Soldier on the ground on up to higher headquarters.”

    SNAPs work in concert with both Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1 and WIN-T Increment 2, which together make up the Army’s current tactical communications network backbone, essentially the Army’s Internet. In the past, Army maneuver companies did not have high-capacity entry into digital networks, and that reach-back to the network backbone is critical for today’s evolving missions.

    “The introduction of SNAPs into the company level command post gives company commanders access to those high-speed digital networks,” Sidwell said. “The company command post connection completes an important part of the network architecture.”

    The capabilities of SNAP Lite, along with other potential CoCP industry-proposed solutions, were evaluated during NIE 12.2 held in May 2012. The intent of the NIE process is to assess and integrate systems that meet an operational need or gap, primarily through Soldier-led evaluations during the semi-annual field exercises. The Army established a realistic operational environment at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to conduct these evaluations. NIE systems under evaluation, such as the CoCP SNAP Lite, are submitted by government and industry and go through a selection process to participate in the NIEs to receive a full assessment.

    The Army’s solicitation for a small form factor terminal to support the CoCP included required vendor participation in a demonstration held at the Joint Satellite Engineering Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground, (APG) Md. Engineers from APG’s Communications Systems Design Center were also leveraged to review and ensure the validity of the demonstration’s technical data, Lundy said.

    “The CoCP directed requirement demonstrated that we could evaluate the latest technology and capability through the NIE then complete that requirement to gain the best value for the Army,” Coile said.

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  • Heftier unmanned ground vehicle offers more lifting, hauling strength

    The iRobot Warrior, using a tool on the end of its arm, is able to grab, lift and carry heavy items. The arm can lift up to 350 pounds and the Warrior can carry a payload of up to 150 pounds.

    By Robert Karlsen and Bob Van Enkenvoort


    DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. — A small car can’t pull a heavy trailer. Sports utility vehicles don’t have a compact car’s fuel efficiency. A perfect, one-size-fits-all vehicle doesn’t exist. The same goes for unmanned ground vehicles, known as UGVs.

    Soldiers use UGVs — such as the 40-pound PackBot or the larger, 115-pound TALON — to detect and defeat roadside bombs, gain situational awareness, detect chemical and radiological agents, and increase the standoff distance between Soldiers and potentially dangerous situations. Just as SUVs offer utility smaller cars can’t match, larger UGVs provide capabilities not available with smaller platforms.

    The 300-pound iRobot Warrior, developed in partnership with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s tank and automotive center, is a large UGV that offers more lifting and carrying power, as well as the potential for better dexterity to grab items or open and close doors.

    The Warrior’s capabilities combine that of a tank automotive research, development and engineering center-developed map-based navigation and those of the Warrior’s predecessor, the Neomover, which was larger than a PackBot and could perform several dexterous tasks with its robotic arm.


    The development team evaluated Warrior UGVs in several live exercises and a real-life disaster response. In February 2009, TARDEC brought the Warrior to the cobra gold tactical exercises in Thailand for an assessment at the Marine Experimentation Center.

    “A group of Marines were part of the exercise and they tested the system’s mobility, communication-range capabilities, how well can it go up and down stairs and through corridors and hallways,” said Jeremy Gray, TARDEC Ground Vehicle Robotics research electrical engineer.

    At the exercise, the Army tested the Warrior with several infantry mission scenarios including: entry-point checkpoint, vehicle security, building clearance, cordon and search, route clearance, assess mobility and casualty extractions. The cobra gold evaluations were vital in helping TARDEC associates determine how to move forward with the platform’s development.

    “We learned that the systems needed some improvements before we could get them to a fieldable maturity level,” said TARDEC GVR Customer Support Team Leader Lonnie Freiburger. “There were some good data points that showed that if we continued to make S&T investment in mission payloads — such as manipulators, platform intelligence, power, vision and explosive and chemical detection systems — we could have a better product.”

    The iRobot 710 Warrior with APOBS provides warfighters with a powerful and rugged unmanned system that facilitates the deliberate breaching of anti-personnel minefields and multi-strand wire obstacles.

    Shortly after that evaluation, TARDEC received congressional funding to work with iRobot in the development of two Warrior manipulator arms in July 2009. The arms were required to weigh less than 45 kilograms, have a reach of 1.5 meters, lift a 50 kilogram object and move it 50 meters, drag a 100 kilogram object for 50 meters, dig 25 centimeters into the soil, and turn over a 50 centimeter by 50 centimeter x 4 centimeters piece of concrete. iRobot eventually doubled the lift capacity and extended the reach to 1.9 meters, increasing the weight to 54 kilograms.

    iRobot also developed a mechanism attaching an Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System, or APOBS, to the Warrior to teleoperate it into position and remotely fire the munition. The APOBS has two boxes with a line charge with grenades attached at intervals. An attached rocket is shot to lay out the line. The grenades on the line then detonate and clear a path for users.

    The APOBS is a fielded system, but must currently be put in place manually. Because of that, adding it to the Warrior or other tele-operated UGVs meant having to start from scratch.

    “Trying to take a system that was designed for that and adapt it and integrate it to a UGV was a great challenge because the technical reports and training manuals don’t have helpful information,” Gray said. “We had a lot of questions [regarding the APOBS integration] and asked the developers that made the training manuals, and they weren’t even sure. So it was a lot of: ‘Let’s see if this works.’ Luckily, we got through it all without blowing up the robot. It ended up being a success. We had a couple of close calls, but we learned a lot from that.”


    After those refinements were made, the team put Warrior to the test again. The congressional funding also allowed them to run more drills at the Navy’s China Lake, Calif., facility in November 2009, and then twice at the combined-arms live-fire exercise during 2010 Cobra Gold, outside of Chai Badan, Thailand.

    “It is a really big show. That’s when you have air and ground forces coming together from different countries. It’s basically one big exercise of one big assault. So you had air strikes and mortar rounds coming into an area,” Gray said. “The ground forces used the APOBS for the initial penetration, so the Warrior went up to the concertina wire, launched and blew that out of the way and then the ground forces were able to go in and complete the exercise.”

    Currently, one of TARDEC’s Warriors is undergoing final software testing. The other is at Re2′s facility supporting two small business initiatives TARDEC manages on semi-autonomous door opening and enhanced manipulation feedback. They are also being used to support Gray’s innovation project in developing a new gripper design.

    “Re2 is developing an enhanced intuitive control,” Gray noted “A lot of the manipulators don’t have real fine movement, and they don’t have haptic feedback, which is a type of feedback that goes back to the users so they have an idea of what is going on.”

    In that light, Re2 is building an end-effector tool kit for the Warrior arm with automatic tool- change capabilities.

    “On the end of your arm, there is some sort of tool — whether it’s a gripper, whether it’s a knife — that they have the ability to change out automatically,” Gray explained.

    In marsupial mode, the iRobot 710 Warrior carries a PackBot to approach, investigate and neutralize improvised explosive devices, while keeping personnel at a safe standoff distance.

    An assessment using the Warrior manipulator arm and the Re2 Modular Intelligent Manipulation and Intuitive Control was completed in December 2011 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Scenarios involved opening doors, getting through locked doors and finding a locked device. The tasks were also done with smaller UGVs without the tool-change capabilities.

    Engineers took a unique approach to gather information in terms of what tools to design for the system.

    “We went out to Fallujah, Iraq, when we deployed and took photos of all the tools being strapped onto the robots. This is the ad-hoc stuff that the user is putting on,” Freiburger said.

    It makes sense to have conformed hardware designs instead of the makeshift tools added in the field.

    “It sounds like there is an opportunity to leverage what industry is doing, but industry is a little different. They’re more focused on very precise tasks in a benign environment. We’re dealing with very complex environments. Our tolerances are a little more open than what they have to deal with.”

    Tools currently being designed include:

    – end effectors — grippers — for different style of doors
    – engineering tools for route clearance, diggers and trenchers
    – small pneumatic sledgehammers that can pick through the ground
    – wire rakes to pull command wire from the ground
    – window breakers to do entry control point type of jobs


    In addition to the California and Thailand exercises, iRobot sent two PackBots and two Warriors to Japan after the March 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that left around 19,000 people dead or missing and damaged several nuclear reactors to the point of near failure.
    The PackBots were first sent into a reactor to gain situational awareness, where the investigation found radiation levels of 72.0 Sieverts inside the reactor’s containment vessel — enough to kill a person in minutes.

    Tim Trainer, interim general manager of iRobot’s Military Business Unit, said the UGVs stood up well to the conditions.

    “We knew going into the operation that Warrior was a very rugged platform, but we didn’t know how much of an effect the high radiation levels would have on the robot operationally,” Trainer said. “We’re pleased that Warrior has continued to perform unaffected in this environment.”

    Workers also outfitted the platform with an industrial vacuum cleaner to remove radioactive debris and further reduce radiation levels.


    Moving ahead, the challenge is building the right size robot for the job.

    “There isn’t a perfect robot,” Gray said. “Eventually, you’re going to have an arsenal of robots, and you’re going to pick the one that’s going to help your mission the best each day.”

    Today, Soldiers primarily tele-operate robots.

    “There are some intelligent features that vendors are selling such as scripts for movements, such as manipulation. Maybe you need to reposition an arm before it can go upstairs. You push a button and the center of gravity is recalibrated from the manipulator for all the payloads and now you can climb up the stairs. Maybe you have a user that is continually picking up objects so now you have a script for that task,” Freiburger said. “We know we want to reduce the cognitive load of our warfighters and eventually be a force multiplier.”

    For now, engineers are working on augmented teleoperation to improve the operational tempo in any way possible, and continue the quest for improved autonomy and dexterity.

    “A robot is an enabler,” Freiburger said. “We’re constantly working on improving the touch, senses, and other ways of communicating and understanding our environment. [We're] trying to make the robots more like humans in any way possible.”


    TARDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

    RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

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  • Engineers work to better monitor missile health

    Missiles RDECOM - Stephen Marotta, principal investigator with the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, watches as Stephen Horowitz, a Ducommun Miltec engineer, displays a fully functional prototype MEMs sensor being developed to monitor vibration in support of missile health monitoring.

    By Evelyn Teats


    REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s (RDECOM) aviation and missile center is leveraging micro-electro-mechanical systems research in a new application to detect potentially damaging vibrations encountered by missiles during handling, transport and operation.

    Stephen Marotta, Engineering Directorate project principal investigator, said MEMS research has been ongoing at Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center for many years and many different applications have been successfully transitioned from the lab to the Soldier in the field.

    In an effort to improve missile health monitoring, Marotta began collaborating with Mohan Sanghadasa, from AMRDEDC’s Weapons Development and Integration Directorate, and Stephen Horowitz, an engineer with Ducommun Miltec.

    The AMRDEC team is using technology, both current and in-development, to design a new MEMS sensor that will offer several benefits over current missile health monitoring systems.

    “We’ve spent a number of years developing acoustic sensors, microphones based on piezoelectric materials,” Horowitz said, “and there’s not a huge difference between designing a microphone and designing a vibration sensor and accelerometers. It’s a different structure, a different geometry, but we use the same fabrication processes to create them. On our first generation sensor, we used the same materials even.”

    One benefit of the new design is extended battery life.

    Current missile health monitoring methods require a lot of power, because they collect vibration data at all frequencies. Research, however, has shown that the greatest risk for damage to missiles occurs during low vibration — under 200 hertz. The AMRDEC team is designing a sensor that only collects low frequency data and is capable of switching on and off, thus extending the battery’s life.

    Marotta said the MEMS work meets the challenge set by AMRDEC director for missile development Steve Cornelius to get new capabilities into the hands of Soldiers, to leverage technology solutions that increase readiness, and to enable more affordable weapons.

    “Applied research, led by the AMRDEC Engineering Directorate, is addressing those many challenges in an integrated fashion with other AMRDEC directorates, other RDECs, and other services to sustain its missile systems as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Marotta said. “AMRDEC science and technology for monitoring of missile health or condition improves the accuracy of readiness reporting and reduces the overall missile sustainment burden. AMRDEC is making a positive impact with current technology transitions at present, as well as greatly benefiting future systems.”

    A prototype of the sensor should be complete later this year with transition into the field expected in 2014.

    The team reported its research in a paper published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, “A Low Frequency MEMS Vibration Sensor for Low Power Missile Health Monitoring.” The paper was nominated for best paper at the 2013 IEEE conference.

    AMRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

    RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

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  • Mobile Tower System delivers life saving upgrades

    By Sofia Bledsoe


    When Soldiers and aircraft deploy in any part of the world, air traffic control operations become one of the most important functions to ensure that all aircraft supporting military operations maintain safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic.

    The Mobile Tower System, or MOTS, provides the effective and reliable solution that can be deployed anywhere in the world, in any weather condition and will support both military and civilian air operations. MOTS will also network with other air control and battle-management systems, and complies with Federal Aviation Administration/International Civilian Aviation Organization regulations.

    The Air Traffic Control Product Office, under the Project Office for Aviation Systems, manages the MOTS, and is led by Lt. Col. Michael Rutkowski, Product Manager for ATC. Together with his team, Rutkowski developed a phased strategy to divest and replace the original system, the AN/TSW-7A, which was built in the late 1960s. Just like an old computer system, “It was simply outdated and virtually unsustainable,” said Rutkowski. Everything associated with refurbishing the 7A became very costly, even with its basic maintenance. “Plus all the manufacturers that built the original system are no longer in business,” he added.

    So the Army initiated a requirement for a mobile air traffic control system in 1999. The program passed a Milestone C decision in January 2012, which gave Rutkowski and his team approval to proceed with a Low Rate Initial Production for the first 10 of a 39 system requirement.

    In fall of 2011, a trip to visit the 3rd Infantry Division in Savannah, Georgia, led to important changes and leaps with the program. Rutkowski spoke with the 3rd Infantry Division’s General Support Aviation Battalion Commander and discussed the state of their 7A.

    “The system was having problems, and they couldn’t get parts for it,” said Rutkowski. Using out-of-the-box thinking and knowing he had capable air traffic control tower systems with two Engineering Development Models, Rutkowski felt he could provide an operational system to support their upcoming deployment. He offered the idea of fielding MOTS early so that the unit could take it into theater. “The commander not only loved the idea but saw it was a perfect opportunity to see how it handles in an operational environment.”

    To Rutkowski and his team, it was a rare opportunity in Army acquisition to gain an operational assessment straight from the users 20 months ahead of First Unit Equipped (FUE), which will be the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C. FUE is scheduled to take place in November 2013.

    “I thought it would help tremendously in creating one production-like standard from taking both EDMs into theater for one complete system,” said Rutkowski. “It helps in flushing out the manuals and spare parts required using the best metric of all — our own Army Aviation Air Traffic Controllers and Maintainers, and it also provides us the confidence that our system is combat certified before production begins.”

    A few months before 3ID’s deployment in 2012, Rutkowski conducted an after action review with Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who had recently returned from deployment and were using the old 7A tower system.

    What the PM ATC team discovered was that when they traveled to Afghanistan in late 2011 to visit the 101st, the unit took a direct hit on their 7A, which destroyed their electrical power unit and rendered the 7A system combat ineffective.

    “It destroyed all the glass in it,” said Rutkowski, “and there was a huge hole on the left hand side due to the attack.” The 7A was classified as ‘battle damaged’ and was not reparable, an occurrence that contributes not only to the shortage of mobile air tower systems but also the need to build newer and better ones.

    The ATC Tower is a valued target for enemy combatants due to the antennas that are placed all around it. The lessons learned from the AAR with the 101st, the PM ATC team applied to the MOTS tower that deployed with the 3ID.

    In addition to the up-armored carrier, PM ATC rapidly up-armored the tower which doesn’t exist in any tower today, in addition to integrating significantly improved capabilities with the system. 3ID deployed with the system in December 2012 and continues to provide valuable feedback to the PM office.

    “The tower has performed well above standard in theater,” said Capt. Evelyn Valesquez, ATC company commander who deployed with the 3ID in 2012. “It’s maintaining an operational readiness rate of above 99%.”

    “The MOTS has provided our Soldiers with a sense of security from the added armor and ballistic windows, along with the additional upgrades, making it easier for maneuver and communication,” Velasquez added.

    The primary difference between the old and new tower is its updated technology, said Velasquez. The system’s digital features make it a ‘user-friendly’ system. “The four different operating positions are capable of monitoring up to 11 different radio frequencies and multiple landline communications,” said Velasquez.

    Among the tower’s other modernized key features are its secure and non-secure digital voice recording system, automated weather information from the Meteorological Measuring System, Environmental Control Units that are attached to the shelter aiding in the systems movement and transportation, which also decreases the number of personnel required for transportation.

    Eddie Spivey, the TRADOC Capability Manager for the MOTS, said that he is very pleased with the system and looks forward to completing the fielding to all the units as planned. “The MOTS has an interface to control pre-existing airfield lighting and although not deployed, comes with an airfield lighting system beginning in second quarter of FY14 when that capability is fielded.” Additionally, an ATC simulator will come with the MOTS that will allow Soldiers to hone and maintain their skills or conduct training when live air traffic is not present.

    Rutkowski and his team also added a few more features such as a ladder to the tower and an M4 gun mount. “We were able to really partner with the unit and get down to exactly what the unit needed. And, we began to receive instant and direct feedback from the users, good, bad or indifferent,” said Rutkowski.

    So what’s next for the team? “Our goal has always been: How do we influence the production line to ensure we capture the lessons learned from Afghanistan and what 3ID has done for the past year with this system, and how do we make positive changes into the current tower,” said Rutkowski.

    The biggest challenge: the PM office can’t field it fast enough.

    “Our greatest hurdle is the number of units out there that have seen MOTS or heard about it,” said Rutkowski. “I’ve received so many questions from unit commanders asking us, ‘When can I have it? What do I need to do to have it faster?’”

    “It’s been a good ‘problem’ to have, and we’re working hard on getting the units’ what they need.”

    The first complete MOTS rolled off the production line in March 2013 from Sierra Nevada Corporation who won the competitive selection for the first 10 LRIP production systems. Additional systems will be fielded beginning this summer. The Army will compete the remaining systems in a competitive source selection that will help to drive the cost further down.

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  • Army engineers enhance EOD Soldiers’ safety with ‘batwings’

    By Daniel Lafontaine


    ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — U.S. Army engineers in Afghanistan recently designed and fabricated a tool to help Soldiers investigate possible improvised explosive devices from a safer distance.

    Capt. Chad M. Juhlin, commander of the 53rd Ordnance Company (EOD), said his Soldiers needed an attachment for use with the iRobot 310-SUGV when searching for IEDs. The iRobot’s explosive ordnance disposal capabilities were limited, requiring Soldiers to operate close to the potential hazards.

    The forward deployed engineering cell from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, took on the challenge.

    The RDECOM Field Assistance in Science and Technology-Center developed the first iteration of the “batwing” in January for Combined Joint Task Force Paladin. It is a collapsible hook that attaches to a telescoping pole for interrogating a site believed to contain explosives.

    The same tools needed to be modified for attachment to robot arms.

    Two engineers and two technicians adapted the RFAST-C’s existing “batwing” command wire detection hook so it could be used with the EOD team’s iRobot arm, and they delivered the products in two weeks.

    “RFAST-C provides a great opportunity for Soldiers on the ground to submit a requirement on the battlefield that will eventually turn into a product,” Juhlin said. “Having these capabilities in theater not only decreases the lead time to obtain the product but allows for easy manipulation to the item if needed.”

    The RFAST-C’s modified “batwing” design provides multiple tools for remote IED operations, including a hook for grabbing or cutting command wire, a rake for breaking up soil, and a spade for moving and digging up items, said Mark Woolley, who led the project for RFAST-C. He is an electrical engineer with RDECOM’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center.

    RFAST-C Director Mike Anthony said both the first-generation “batwing” for telescoping poles and the subsequent modification for robots have received positive feedback from Soldiers in the field.

    The Joint IED Defeat Organization requested 670 original “batwings” for Special Operations Forces and EOD units worldwide. CJTF Paladin requested 50 iRobot “batwings,” in addition to the 10 already delivered to the 53rd Ordnance Company.

    Anthony said the partnership between the 53rd Ordnance Company and RFAST-C was made possible by Scott Heim, a mechanical engineer with RDECOM’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center who is assigned to the Science and Technology Assistance Team at the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan at Bagram Airfield.

    Heim said one of his major duties is to help Soldiers with a technological need connect with the RFAST-C.

    “This example is just one of many projects that have been successful with FAST entities collaborating with users and developing requirements in a collective environment,” Heim said. “Working with the RFAST-C, we can provide rapid prototyping designs to facilitate an evaluation as to whether it meets the user’s needs or if a couple of modifications are needed before production is started.”

    After analyzing the iRobot’s capabilities, RFAST-C personnel cut, bent and welded a proof of concept in minutes to conduct a real-time test, Heim said. The prototype functioned well, but it also revealed some weaknesses and potential optimization features. The team made changes for a second version, which was then successfully manufactured.

    Nick Merrill, a mechanical engineer with RDECOM’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, assisted in the design of the iRobot “batwing.” He said the collaboration with the Soldiers helped the team quickly develop a prototype.

    “This project was unique in how we came up with the original prototype. Most projects, we sit down and brainstorm. For this one, they brought the robot in, we looked at it and how it grasps objects,” Merrill said. “Within 20 minutes of them being on-site, we had a quick, very rough prototype. Not very often does something get off the ground that quick.”

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  • From Smartphones to satellites: Soldiers use new network preparing for advise and assist mission

    A Soldier from 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, uses a Nett Warrior device to communicate during the Mountain Peak training exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., April 19. Nett Warrior, a handheld situational awareness and messaging tool, is a key component of Capability Set 13, which extends the tactical network down to the dismounted Soldier. (Photos by Claire Heininger)

    By Claire Heininger


    FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 22, 2013) — For Staff Sgt. Stephen Kovac, getting important information and instructions to the rest of his platoon was a struggle.

    He could radio back to higher headquarters and wait for the calls to filter back down, losing precious seconds during an operation. Or, he said, he could “yell and scream back to the rear, use hand and arm signals, anything possible to get it across.”

    That was before Kovac began training with Capability Set (CS) 13, an integrated tactical network that extends digital communications down to the lowest echelons.

    “Using CS 13, you can send reports and you can see reports from individuals on the ground in order to manipulate my team leaders and squad leaders,” the platoon sergeant said. “Even the lowest Joe can send me information, and get it to me within seconds.”

    Kovac and hundreds of other Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) are now training with CS 13 as they prepare for potential deployment to Afghanistan later this year. During the recent Mountain Peak training event here, Soldiers and leaders said the new capabilities would support their mission as a Security Forces Advise and Assist Team (SFAAT), a formation that will be charged with working closely with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to improve host nation capabilities and help the ANSF take on increasing responsibility for the security of their country.

    Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division listen to officers' feedback during an after action review at the Mountain Peak training exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., April 19. The unit is preparing for potential deployment to Afghanistan and the training required Soldiers to work in an advise-and-assist capacity alongside role players acting as Afghan forces.

    While the Afghan forces will be taking a lead in operations, the extended, mobile network capabilities provided by CS 13 will allow the SFAAT units to support with situational awareness and needs such as calls for air support, artillery support, medical evacuation (Medevac) and other reach-back communications.

    “As U.S. forces start to reduce our presence, we’re partnered with the Afghan security forces and continue to focus on their development, but we’re doing it over greater distances,” said Col. Sam Whitehurst, 3rd BCT commander. “Having this capability where I can take some of the capabilities to command and control the brigade on the move — that gives us the ability to extend our reach, even as we reduce our presence.”

    Whitehurst’s BCT is the Army’s second brigade to field and train with CS 13, an advanced, mobile communications network that represents a significant upgrade over capabilities available in theater today. The Army’s first such integrated fielding effort, CS 13 will allow 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 BCT.

    At the command level, CS 13 equips brigade, battalion and company leaders with vehicles linked in to Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, the backbone of the Army’s tactical communications network. Those vehicles allow commanders to leave their command posts and continue to issue orders, receive briefings and monitor the latest intelligence.

    A Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 Tactical Communications Node is pictured outside the tactical operations center for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division during the Mountain Peak training exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., April 19. The 4th and 3rd BCTs, 10th Mountain Division were the Army's first equipped with CS 13, an integrated fielding effort of tactical communications equipment that is scalable and tailorable to different unit configurations and missions.

    The integrated network also arms dismounted leaders like Kovac with Smartphone-like handheld devices that pinpoint the locations of fellow Soldiers, and connect to lightweight radios to transmit data such as text messages, Medevac requests and photos.

    “In Afghanistan in 2003, we had to take our digital camera with us, and we had to take all this extra equipment that we had — now you’re bringing it into a phone,” said Staff Sgt. Lee T. Hamberger, who used the handheld Nett Warrior system and Rifleman Radio during drills at Mountain Peak. “If I saw something suspicious, I would take a picture of it — basically anything we saw that could help with information for future patrols; they were able to have a better view of everything that was going on.”

    The week-long, brigade-level training exercise marked a significant step forward in increasing Soldiers’ proficiency using integrated network equipment in an operational environment, Whitehurst said. The next stage for the BCT will be a Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) rotation at Fort Polk, La, which will pose SFAAT scenarios with role players acting as host nation army, police, civilians and enemy insurgents. Recently, the 4th BCT, 10th Mountain Division concluded its own JRTC rotation as the first unit to utilize CS 13 in the SFAAT mission.

    The next two BCTs to receive CS 13 fielding efforts, both from the 101st Airborne Division, are beginning new equipment fielding and training at Fort Campbell, Ky. With each integrated fielding effort, the units can adapt the equipment to their particular mission requirements.

    “This tactical network will provide connectivity and situational awareness for any mission in any region,” said Col. Rob Carpenter, Army director of System of Systems Integration. “The idea is to provide scalable and tailorable equipment that is integrated across all levels, so it can be responsive to what the commander needs to execute mission command. You are seeing that now as the 10th Mountain Division brigades continue to train with the network’s capability during their exercises.”

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  • 10th Mountain Division unit marches forward with network training

    A Soldier from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, boards a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP)- All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) equipped with Capability Set 13 network equipment during the brigade's Spartan Peak field exercise in late March 2013 at Fort Drum, N.Y. The purpose of the week-long exercise was to synchronize the brigade's Capability Set 13 assets throughout each of the battalions, as well as certifying platoon-level leadership in combined arms live fires. (Photos by Sgt. Javier S. Amador, 10th Mountain Division)

    By Claire Heininger

    FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 8, 2013) — As the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) prepares for potential deployment with the Army’s new tactical communications network, a recent training exercise marked a key step in increasing unit proficiency and network performance, leaders said.

    Built around battalion operations and platoon-level live fire scenarios, the Spartan Peak event used the Capability Set (CS) 13 network to connect dismounted infantry Soldiers with the rest of the brigade more than 25 kilometers away. On the move inside tactical vehicles, leaders used voice and digital connections to exchange information and collaborate on a common operational picture as they executed their mission sets.

    “We really started to utilize the systems to do what they’re intended to do,” said Maj. Graham Wood, the chief communications officer for the brigade, known as 3/10. “We made some large strides.”

    The unit is the Army’s second brigade to field and train with CS 13, an advanced, mobile communications network that represents a significant upgrade over capabilities available in theater today. The integrated package of satellite-based systems, data radios, handheld devices and the latest mission command software “unties” commanders from fixed locations and greatly enhances communications for small units at lower echelons.

    Vehicles equipped with Capability Set 13 network equipment are deployed during the Spartan Peak field exercise in late March 2013 for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. The purpose of the weeklong exercise was to synchronize the brigade's Capability Set 13 assets throughout each of the battalions, as well as certifying platoon-level leadership in combined arms live fires.

    On one dismounted patrol during Spartan Peak, a platoon carrying lightweight data radios and smartphone-like handheld devices shared situational awareness as they spread out to pursue an objective. Soldiers sent text messages, plotted icons to show enemy locations and drew routes on their screens that were broadcast to their teammates in real time. Trailed by vehicles equipped with other elements of CS 13, the information was relayed back to higher headquarters for quick, informed decisions.

    “The company command post could actually track the movements of the dismounts, as well as the platoon leaders in their trucks tracking the dismounts,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Wilk, communications officer for 3/10′s 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment. “When they have a pre-set objective, everyone can see it and have that common operational picture together — and now they can do that on the move, on foot.”

    The more hands-on experience Soldiers gain applying CS 13 during mission scenarios — after previously using the gear in the classroom and the motor pool — the more expertise and enthusiasm they develop about what the new technologies can do to support them, leaders said.

    “The sheer amount of systems is a big challenge,” Wilk said. “Once they started doing the on-the-job training with the equipment, they’re getting pretty excited about the capabilities they have.”

    Next up for 3/10 is re-organizing into a Security Forces Advise and Assist Team (SFAAT), a formation that if called upon to deploy will be charged with working closely with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to improve their capabilities and help the ANSF take on increasing responsibility for the security of their country. 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. The Army has prioritized delivering CS 13 to SFAAT brigades to meet those requirements.

    A Humvee from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., is deployed with its communications satellite dish during the brigade's Spartan Peak field exercise in late March 2013. The purpose of the weeklong exercise was to synchronize the brigade's Capability Set 13 assets throughout each of the battalions, as well as certifying platoon-level leadership in combined arms live fires.

    “As you’re looking at having these small teams out there, you’ve got another way to talk back to higher (headquarters) to request assistance — that’s a tremendous capability right there,” Wood said.

    At the same time as the SFAAT reorganization, the unit will continue its intensive training regimen. The Mountain Peak exercise scheduled to take place at Fort Drum, N.Y., later this month will challenge the network to pass additional data during brigade-level operations. Mountain Peak will be followed by a Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) rotation at Fort Polk, La, which will pose SFAAT scenarios with role players acting as host nation army, police, civilians and enemy insurgents. Recently, the 4th BCT, 10th Mountain Division concluded its own JRTC rotation as the first unit to utilize CS 13 in the SFAAT mission.

    Throughout the fielding and training process for CS 13, which began last October, the two brigades have been exchanging ideas, lessons-learned, troubleshooting information, and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for the CS 13 technologies. Signal officers in particular have collaborated and worked around the clock to master the different components, and are gratified to see their time and effort pay off as they conduct operations in the field.

    “You don’t really see everything until you get out of college and go into a career,” said Capt. Jesse Ellis, commander of Charlie Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “Now they see they own something. They see it coming together.”

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  • Army prepares for next Network Integration Evaluation

    Soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division train on Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 in February. The main focus for NIE 13.2 is the Follow-on Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) for WIN-T Increment 2, which is the Army's mobile network backbone. (Photos by Claire Heininger, U.S. Army)

    Claire Heininger, U.S. Army


    FORT BLISS, TEXAS — With two units now readying for Afghanistan with the Army’s new tactical communications network, the service will continue to drive technology forward through its next Network Integration Evaluation this spring.

    Soldier training, vehicle integration, system check-outs and other preparations are well underway in advance of NIE 13.2, which begins in May at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. It is the fifth in the series of semi-annual field evaluations designed to keep pace with rapid advances in communications technologies and deliver proven and integrated network capabilities to Soldiers.

    The NIEs are not stand-alone events, but build on previous exercises by improving the Army’s integrated network baseline and incorporating Soldier feedback into system functionality and training methods. As the Army continues to field network capability sets with systems and doctrine vetted through the NIE, the events will further evolve to include joint and coalition involvement next year.

    “The NIE offers us the ability to evaluate and improve the network incrementally,” said Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, known as ASA(ALT). “It forces the community together in an environment where Soldiers are telling us what we did well and what we didn’t do well — very graphically, very visually, very obviously.”

    From combined arms maneuver across more than 150 miles of desert to subterranean operations in mountain caves, NIE 13.2 includes mission threads designed to measure network performance at all echelons, from the brigade commander down to the dismounted Soldier. It will include an aerial tier to extend the range of communications and operational energy solutions to more efficiently power networked equipment.

    “We’ve got some good questions, and the scenario will allow us to get at a lot of those operational pieces,” said Col. Elizabeth Bierden, chief of the Network Integration Division, Brigade Modernization Command, or BMC. “We’ve seen many of the systems before, but I think we just get the network better every single time.”

    An engineer works on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle equipped with network gear in preparation for the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 13.2. From combined arms maneuver across more than 150 miles of desert to subterranean operations in mountain caves, NIE 13.2 includes mission threads designed to measure network performance at all echelons, from the brigade commander down to the dismounted Soldier.

    The main focus for NIE 13.2 is the Follow-on Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, the Army’s mobile network backbone. WIN-T Increment 2 provides an enhanced capability over the current Increment 1 version used today in Afghanistan, including unprecedented “on-the-move” communications capabilities down to the company level. A successful test will enable the Army to keep fielding WIN-T Increment 2 to operational units beyond Capability Set 13, which is now being delivered to select brigade combat teams (BCTs) preparing for deployment.

    During the FOT&E, the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) will conduct the full range of military operations — from movement to contact to peacekeeping — and stretch the WIN-T network over even greater distances than during NIE 12.2, which was the unit’s first formal chance to assess the system. Following that evaluation in May 2012, the Army aggressively pursued and implemented corrective actions to address the areas identified for improvement, and 2/1 AD Soldiers have also become more comfortable and proficient with the equipment.

    “The training is more hands-on, and with the knowledge we already have we’re able to go more in-depth,” said Spc. Erik Liebhaber, who has participated in three NIEs and said training for 13.2 incorporated specific scenarios that Soldiers had previously encountered in the field. “That’s a big part of the continuity.”

    Other systems under formal test include Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P), the Army’s next-generation situational awareness and blue force tracking technology; Nett Warrior, a smartphone-like system for dismounted leaders; the Area Mine Clearance System-Medium Flail, an armored vehicle designed for clearing large areas of anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines; and Tactical Communication and Protection System, designed to prevent hearing injury while allowing Soldiers to remain cognizant of their environment during combat. A dozen additional systems, such as those comprising the aerial tier, will receive less formal evaluations.

    Both JBC-P and Nett Warrior have actively incorporated user feedback from several previous NIE cycles into their hardware and software designs.

    “It’s gotten a lot simpler to use,” Staff Sgt. Lance Bradford said of JBC-P. “That was our largest suggestion to them — you’ve got to get this more user-friendly.”

    Soldier feedback and lessons-learned from the NIEs not only affect the conduct of future NIE iterations, but have also been applied to the process of producing, fielding and training units on Capability Set (CS) 13, which is the Army’s first such communications package to provide integrated connectivity throughout the BCT. The NIEs informed all aspects of CS 13, from how network systems are installed onto a vehicle, to which training approach is most effective, to which Soldiers within a brigade are issued certain pieces of equipment.

    Two BCTs of the 10th Mountain Division, now in the final stages of training before deploying to Afghanistan later this year, are receiving lessons-learned and recommended operational uses for the equipment that were developed during the NIE process. Serving as Security Forces Advise and Assist Teams (SFAATs), the units will rely on the new network as they work closely with the Afghan forces, take down fixed infrastructure and become increasingly mobile and dispersed in their operations.

    While NIE missions to date have confirmed that CS 13 can support such operations, they have not been limited to the Afghan mission. The NIE 13.2 scenario will set the stage for future exercises that will include new offensive and defensive operations replicating what units may face in other regions, including joint and coalition involvement beginning with NIE 14.2 next spring.

    “We are trying to set the stage for a joint and multinational effort in 14.2, and so we’re looking across functions at Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, close air support, air ground-integration, with the major objectives focused on joint entry operations and the joint network,” said Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, BMC commander. “We’ll be in a position to look at a number of those joint functions and we’ll set the stage through the series of NIEs we have coming up.”

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