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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
Claire Heininger, U.S. Army
RED RIVER ARMY DEPOT, Texas — The Army is preparing to deploy the first Security Forces Advise and Assist Team to Afghanistan equipped with the latest suite of integrated network communications gear, but first the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), must train on the new equipment and learn how it will aid in the advise and assist mission.
To get the brigade’s Soldiers quickly trained and ready for the deployment, the Army has integrated some of the network capability into a familiar vehicle platform.
The Humvees rolling off the line here — more than 330 over the course of four months — are equipped with data radios, situational awareness software and other network systems that will be used by lower-tier echelons in the brigade. Two brigade combat teams, or BCTs, of the 10th Mountain Division are using the Humvee vehicles for their Mission Rehearsal Exercises and other stateside training before deploying to Afghanistan, where they will receive mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, All-Terrain Vehicles, M-ATVs, and MaxxPro vehicles with the same lower-tier network package for use in theater.
“The Humvee training sets have the same systems and configurations that the units will see in theater, so it’s a good way to familiarize Soldiers with how to employ the network while taking advantage of the vehicles the Army has available in the U.S.,” said Maj. Rick Wilkins, the Army’s assistant product manager for light tactical vehicles, who is overseeing the production effort. Network components on the lower-tier MRAP vehicles will be integrated in theater, allowing for the units to ‘fall in’ on the equipment once they arrive later this year.
The quick-reaction project to complete the Humvees reflects a strong partnership between the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, known as ASA(ALT), and Army Materiel Command, or AMC, to leverage expertise across both communities and deliver a needed capability to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
The training vehicles are one part of the service’s comprehensive effort to quickly field Capability Set 13, known as CS 13, to select BCTs, who will deploy to Afghanistan to support the drawdown of U.S. forces. CS 13 is the Army’s first integrated communications package that spans the entire BCT formation, connecting the static tactical operations center to the commander on-the-move to the dismounted Soldier. The network will provide on-the-move voice and data communications over vast distances, which 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.
The first recipients of the Humvees are the 4th and 3rd BCTs, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), who are now training with those vehicles as well as higher-echelon MRAPs integrated with Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, the mobile network backbone of the capability set, and the latest tactical data radios and Mission Command software. These M-ATV “Key leader” vehicles were first equipped with Underbody Improvement Kits, or UIKs, at the Fort Bliss, Texas, MRAP facility and subsequently shipped and integrated with the communications suite at Space and Naval Warfare, or SPAWAR, Systems Center Atlantic in Charleston, S.C. When the brigades deploy, they will take the higher-tier MRAPs with them and augment them with the lower-tier vehicles they will receive in theater. Meanwhile the Army will then rotate the Humvees to the follow-on units receiving CS 13, who will also be provided their own set of key leader MRAP vehicles.
“Rotating the networked Humvees among units allows the Army to cost-effectively train thousands of Soldiers on the capability set, and do it in a way that makes sense for the brigades’ training and deployment schedules,” said Col. Rob Carpenter, Army director of System of Systems Integration.
Similar to the SPAWAR team’s work to network the MRAPs, the integration work at Red River Army Depot to prepare the Humvees is a complex effort that the Army is executing for the first time.
The Humvees are integrated in multistep process. Seats and armor are stripped from each vehicle and brackets to hold the network capabilities are installed. Holes are drilled in the exterior to let air flow in and prevent overheating. Cables are measured, cut and connected. One of the more complex efforts involved switching out the Humvee alternator for a higher-output version, to help power the radios, antennas, switches, transceivers, computer screens and other network parts which are also precisely installed.
With a team of more than 25 skilled technicians, each day the line churns out an average of six vehicles. The training sets come in three different configurations of varying complexity, depending on the user’s role in the BCT, said Robert Vallee, the depot’s supervisor for Humvee reset. The Army leveraged the Humvee original equipment manufacturer to come up with an integration design, which was then validated and turned over to RRAD for physical integration.
“The timeline was very aggressive, and from a platform perspective it was a steep learning curve” to become familiar with and incorporate network equipment from several different sources, Wilkins said.
But leveraging the experienced technicians at Red River, the operation overcame these challenges and is on track to finish production by the end of March, he said.
“This was a great team effort across ASA(ALT), including Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, and Combat Support and Combat Service Support, AMC depots and our industry partners to design build and deliver a cost-effective training solution on a tight calendar schedule,” Carpenter said. “These training sets are an essential asset as we continue to execute the CS 13 fielding mission.”
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.”