Satellite communications network enables more expeditionary Army to move beyond the FOB
By Mr. Darren LeBlanc
For the past 13 years, much of the Army fought from forward operating bases (FOBs). The FOBs housed command posts with well-established network infrastructure, which served as an information “home base” for troops between patrols. That approach was well-suited to the operational environment and counterinsurgency mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, but future contingencies and support operations—even the current Ebola response mission in West Africa—demand more flexibility. Command posts must be smaller and more agile to support rapid deployment. Forces must be able to connect to critical information while en route to a developing situation. Network systems must be integrated on vehicle platforms of all shapes and sizes, so Soldiers can communicate on-the-move, regardless of location or echelon.
To meet these challenging requirements, the Army’s tactical communications network backbone, Warfighter Information Network – Tactical (WIN-T), is also evolving beyond the FOB. By harnessing new technologies and optimizing current capabilities, the future network, with WIN-T serving as its communications pipeline, will enable a globally responsive force to seamlessly communicate from any location, linking the foxhole to the enterprise. Armed with advanced network communications, future forces will be able to quickly and simultaneously address multiple contingencies in every environment. For example, should concurrent military or humanitarian support be needed in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East, the jungle terrain of the Pacific Rim, frigid environments in northern Asia and the urban environments of developing nations, the Army will be able to adapt the network to support the unique information needs of each situation.
The satellite-based WIN-T network is essentially the Soldier’s anywhere, anytime Internet service, providing the tactical communications network backbone to which other networked systems and applications need to connect in order to function. WIN-T provides the data “pipe” that enables Soldiers to access redundant, reliable forms of communication and mission command applications, both at-the-halt and on-the-move, at the farthest tactical edge. Commanders can be untethered from their command posts to lead from anywhere on the battlefield, and Soldiers can exchange critical situational awareness between upper and lower echelons. WIN-T’s satellite capability extends tactical radio networks beyond line of sight, keeping Soldiers connected over vast distances and terrain obstructions to significantly expand their operational reach.
Improvements to WIN-T are part of the Simplified Tactical Army Reliable Network (STARNet) road map that lays out the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical (PEO C3T) system-of-systems portfolio from today through 2021 by identifying opportunities for injecting capability upgrades to enable the Army’s Force 2025 network. STARNet seeks to address current and future network and mission command requirements by delivering advanced technology improvements with enduring characteristics such as agility, simplicity, increased capacity, security and affordability—all of which will help the Army win in a complex world.
AGILE COMMAND POSTS
To support the operational imperatives of Force 2025 and Beyond, the Army is pushing to simplify its command-post configurations and reduce setup and teardown time to increase agility. Currently, brigade command posts require significant cabling that must be transported, laid out, bundled and plugged into servers. The Army recently introduced Wi-Fi coverage for the command post, which removes a multitude of those cables and allows Soldiers more computing mobility. In addition, an encrypted 4G LTE infrastructure that can cover an entire FOB provides a high-bandwidth connectivity option for hand-held devices and frees leaders from the command post, giving Soldiers remote, secure network access to multitask with enterprise services applications and to join phone and video teleconferences anywhere on the FOB.
An early version of the networking equipment required to create a wireless command post includes four components and weighs 396 pounds. The future small-form-factor solution now under development by WIN-T has two components and weighs 86 pounds, reducing setup time, complexity and the burden on Soldiers.
Another technical enhancement supporting more agile command posts is the ability to virtualize hardware components, so that a physical piece of hardware becomes a weightless piece of software. Virtualization is enabling the Army to improve network performance, simplify network operations, and reduce size, weight, power and cooling (SWaP-C) requirements for command posts and vehicles.
One such effort, the WIN-T Increment 1 End-Of-Life (EOL) Technical Refresh, began with the 29th Division Headquarters from the Maryland Army National Guard (ARNG) in October 2014, with an aggressive fielding schedule planned to bring this new capability rapidly to all Army and ARNG WIN-T Increment 1 units by the end of 2017. The upgrade includes new commercial hardware and software components that reduce SWaP-C by combining capabilities that once required their own hardware onto virtualized servers. These virtualization efforts also provide 50 percent more expansion capacity for future modernization, by allowing the Army to add functions to a “box” without increasing the number of hardware components. The EOL effort reduces the number of required transit cases by one-third, shedding 1,000 cases over the next three years, and reduces the weight of the remaining cases. That frees up strategic lift, saves space for other critical items and reduces Soldier burden, supporting a more expeditionary force.
Command posts, like Soldiers, can become more expeditionary by changing the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) related to their deployment, as Soldiers found during the latest WIN-T Increment 2 operational test. That test, aimed at evaluating the recent upgrades that make the system easier to operate and maintain, was held in conjunction with the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 15.1 in October and early November 2014 at Fort Bliss, TX, and White Sands Missile Range, NM. More than 5,000 Soldiers, including the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division and supporting units, conducted the test, which lasted 19 days and covered more than 3,000 square miles. Units used the system’s flexibility to create their own unique mobile, tactical command posts, referred to as TACs, to replicate the critical mission command and communication systems found in the much larger tactical operations center (TOC) headquarters. The units used a WIN-T Increment 2-equipped vehicle and other support vehicles as the TAC. When the larger TOC moved to a new location, units retained situational awareness and operational tempo in their forward, agile TAC.
FIGHTING ON ARRIVAL
Because of the Army’s continuous network modernization efforts, WIN-T was ready to support U.S. Africa Command, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and supporting units in their response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, in Operation United Assistance. Providing command and control information for troops and aid organizations is one of the Army’s key missions in the operation, along with constructing medical facilities and funneling supplies throughout the affected region. The Army network supports improved coordination across the coalition of organizations responding to the Ebola outbreak, by sharing critical information such as the locations and status of treatment units, training updates for health workers and progress made to contain the disease.
The Army gradually built network capacity as units arrived in Liberia, growing from a lightweight, early-entry capability to larger WIN-T systems to establish a robust command-post headquarters structure. The Army also quickly turned on Blue Force Tracking satellite coverage over the region for increased situational awareness.
Rapid deployment into developing situations—a pillar of Force 2025 efforts—is already a fact of life for today’s Global Response Force (GRF) units. As part of the GRF, the Air Force’s C-17 and C-130 aircraft serve as the delivery system for the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps (mainly the 82nd Airborne Division), which maintains deployment-ready paratroopers and infantrymen to provide an immediate military capability on the ground anywhere in the world at very short notice. With help from the Army’s new satellite-based Enroute Mission Command Capability (EMC2), beginning in early 2015, commanders of GRF units will be able to plan missions while on board an aircraft, while their Soldiers receive operational updates and watch full-motion video of upcoming drop zones before their parachutes ever open. EMC2 enables in-flight connection to the WIN-T network backbone, allowing commanders to tap into mission command applications like Command Post of the Future and to access video teleconferencing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles.
As the Army’s force structure continues to evolve, it is also vital to increase the capability and versatility of other early-entry teams and units. With the new Transportable Tactical Command Communications (T2C2) program, small teams will be able to deploy at a moment’s notice with full command post-like connectivity that they can stash in a suitcase and connect to the WIN-T network on arrival. The program’s initial operational test and evaluation is currently scheduled for NIE 16.2, followed by a full-rate production decision and fielding to units. T2C2 will provide satellite dishes that deploy in transit cases the size of carry-on luggage to support small detachments and teams, plus larger transportable satellite dishes to support company-sized elements. These capabilities lend themselves to future contingencies in remote locations that lack an established and reliable network infrastructure.
NET WORKED VEHICLE VERSATILITY
The Army’s mobile WIN-T Increment 2 has already taken WIN-T beyond the FOB in Afghanistan, where three brigade combat teams (BCTs) used its on-the-move network capability to exchange critical situational awareness as the Army dismantled its fixed network infrastructure to return home. As the Army continues to field WIN-T Increment 2 to select infantry and Stryker BCTs, Soldiers have leveraged the network in unique ways to execute test and training missions. During the program’s operational test in October and November 2014, Strykers and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles integrated with WIN-T Increment 2 were used to rapidly retransmit fire and counterfire support information between upper and lower echelons. Forward observers and fire support officers once restricted by the line-of-sight distances of their radios to exchange fires information between maneuver platoons and brigade executed critical operations at the edge of the fight by leveraging WIN-T Increment 2’s secure mobile satellite capabilities.
To support a more expeditionary force, the Army is also using virtualization to significantly reduce SWaP-C requirements for vehicles equipped with the WIN-T Increment 2 network. The Tactical Communications Node (TCN) provides networking and communications to support the command post and is currently built on a Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles platform to hold all of the necessary equipment. The Army is working to virtualize some of the TCN’s hardware, creating a TCN “lite” that is scheduled for fielding in 2017. Other WIN-T Increment 2 capabilities can now be integrated onto smaller platforms, such as sling-loadable High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, to support more agile operations in remote environments.
Underpinning all of these modernization efforts—and all of STARNet—are the principles of increasing network simplicity, security, capacity and adaptability. The Army is aggressively leveraging Soldier feedback from theater, NIEs and user juries to make equipment easier to install, operate, train and maintain, and to ensure a common user experience across the network. This will improve task organization and reduce dependence on signal Soldiers and field support representatives to install, operate and maintain communications equipment.
The network of 2025 must move beyond the FOB, providing the flexibility to support a broad range of operational conditions and delivering robust, reliable communications to all echelons and various mission partners throughout all stages of any operation, in any environment. Modernization efforts are laying the groundwork to network the future force, and the Army will continue to drive technology forward to ensure that it remains many steps ahead of its adversaries and is ready to support the unexpected contingencies of a complex world.
For more information, go to the PEO C3T website at http://peoc3t.army.mil/c3t/or the PM WIN-T website at http://peoc3t.army.mil/wint/, or contact the PEO C3T Public Affairs Office at 443-395-6489 or usarmy.APG.firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, go to milWiki at http://go.usa.gov/4Qvk (Common Access Card login required).
MR. DARREN LEBLANC, technical engineer for PM WIN-T, has been a special adviser to the chief engineer, PM WIN-T since 2009. Previously, as chief of radio engineering, he was responsible for all the radio systems under both the WIN-T Increment 2 and the Increment 3 ACAT 1D development programs. He has a B.S. in engineering from Messiah College.
This article was originally published in the January – March 2015 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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