By Amy Walker, staff writer for PEO C3T
Army National Guard units wear two hats: they support state missions, such as domestic disaster relief efforts, and federal missions, when mobilized to deploy during national emergencies. The guard’s advanced radios, network communications equipment and mission command systems are flexible enough to support both of these objectives.
“When we deployed in Afghanistan, we were the brigade headquarters over two expeditionary signal battalions; one was active duty and one was guard,” said Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Stephens, network technician for the National Guard 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade. “We did the same job, in the same theater, at the same time.”
The Army’s Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) fields the National Guard the same communications equipment as active Army units, so all of the equipment can interoperate across the force — whether it’s providing communications support to first responders during a domestic disaster or to a unit in a combat zone.
During incidents like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, cell phone towers were destroyed and overloaded, and first responders’ radios were incompatible, making life-saving communications almost nonexistent when they were needed most. Now, a new generation of rapidly deployable capability, the disaster incident response emergency communications terminal (DIRECT), will overcome these challenges. It consists of a joint network node (JNN) with a satellite transportable terminal (STT) that is provided by each state’s National Guard units, and a new advanced “delta package.” The new capability enables enhanced collaboration and communication services at incident sites, linking local responders and emergency managers with state and federal authorities. DIRECT provides guardsmen, first responders and other organizations with 4G LTE/wireless connections for the command post and surrounding area, interoperable radio communications, and phone and Internet services when local commercial infrastructure is down.
Formally known as the Joint Incident Site Communication Capability (JISCC), DIRECT was recently renamed by the National Guard to avoid confusion with previous capabilities. It is a major upgrade and replaces the legacy JISCC capability and will be fielded under the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1 program to all 50 states and four territories with a National Guard presence. On the current timeline, the Army expects to begin fielding to the first unit in the third quarter of fiscal year 2015, with fielding expected to continue through 2020.
“Civilian agencies and National Guard units responding to homeland emergencies will have the situational awareness and communications capabilities required to make informed decisions faster and with better results,” said Capt. Adrian Smith, the Army’s WIN-T Increment 1 DIRECT project lead, who is also a member of the Florida Army National Guard. “These capabilities will help to save lives and property, and provide timely relief to those who need it.”
At the heart of the new DIRECT Package is the mission network enclave (MNE), which fits into a single portable transit case and provides tactical access to commercial Internet and telephone services. Since the National Guard has a dual role supporting both state and federal missions, MNE can also be rapidly reconfigured to provide tactical access for secure Internet protocol router (SIPR), non-secure Internet protocol router (NIPR) or even coalition networks.
Integrated into the MNE, the radio-bridging and voice cross-banding module allows interconnection between telephones, combat net radios, first responders’ radios and voice applications. It enables seamless interoperability among disparate radio networks without the National Guard having to supply common radios to all users, as was done in the past. Guardsmen can now combine radio and phone networks for synergistic communications or create different forums where various agencies can talk in independent groups.
“The first responders that we’re assisting can’t be on our secure military network, so we have to help them on their networks or do what they need to do over ours,” Stephens said. “With the advent of these new technologies, we can better assist them and provide that communication support they need.”
DIRECT includes secure wireless coverage and a 4G LTE infrastructure that covers the outlying vicinity of the incident site command post operations.
“The secure 4G/wireless solutions that we’re beginning to field to the broader Army and leveraging for the National Guard disaster response capability are untethering leaders from their operations centers,” said Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 1. “This allows leaders to stay connected when assessing situations first-hand and leading recovery efforts from the area of impact while simultaneously coordinating all the resources required to ensure recovery operations succeed.”
The DIRECT package also includes a towed generator, towed equipment trailer with communications equipment, tent and support supplies. DIRECT’s transport mechanisms include a WIN-T Increment 1 JNN and STT, which have already been fielded to National Guard units for more than a decade. National Guard units in every state are fielded with the Army’s expeditionary internet, WIN-T Increment 1, which provides soldiers at the battalion level and above with high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications.
To support DIRECT, the Army recently installed a commercial internet and phone package at its regional hub node (RHN) in Camp Roberts, Calif., and the other four RHNs worldwide are also receiving the upgrade to provide the capabilities should a disaster or an incident occur anywhere on the planet. The RHN’s new commercial transport capabilities enable responders to call any commercial cell phone or landline or obtain commercial internet access even when commercial towers are down.
Radios and Mission Command
National Guard units are also equipped with the same combat-net, tactical satellite, hand-held, and high-frequency radios provided to the active component, including single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS) and AN/PRC-117G tactical software-defined combat-net radios. In 2010 and 2011, PEO C3T provided more than 3,600 radios to all U.S. states and territories vulnerable to hurricanes, including Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida. It also set up the infrastructure, and worked with the first responders and the National Guard to ensure optimum operational capability.
The guard is also fielded with advanced mission command capabilities such as command post of the future (CPOF), which enables users to see and interact with one another’s tools, data and maps. Using CPOF, the guard commander can get a quick glimpse of the damage and see the big picture of what his state looks like so he can better use the assets, said Maj. Eli Segres, assistant product manager for the Army’s product manager, command post computing environment. Segres is also a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard.
“In your tactical operations center, CPOF is the eyes and ears of all the other equipment and brings everything together for your situational awareness,” said Sgt. First Class Eric Nutto, National Guard instructor at the193rd Regiment regional training institute. “It’s a big plus for the commanders to be able to see everything that’s going on in their area of operations.”
When power lines are down during storms or other emergencies, National Guard units also use the “Blue Force Tracking” (BFT) satellite network to keep track of soldier and platoon locations and to relay situation reports on local conditions. The Delaware National Guard used BFT to track soldiers responding to multiple severe snowstorms last year. When one of their vehicles is in distress, they know exactly where to provide immediate help.
“During that snowstorm we put a lot of great guys on the street that had just returned from Afghanistan,” said Lt. Col. Wiley Blevins, commander of the Delaware National Guard’s 198th Signal Battalion, which provides communications support to military and non-military units and agencies for both state and federal missions. “Snow was falling and the soldiers were calling us and wanted to come in to help. In the course of 30 days, I welcomed them off the plane, and then boom, sent them on the street. Perfect example of support to the away game and the home game and the true duality of the citizen-soldier.”
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