Army to Kick off Series of Integration Exercises for Tactical Network

By June 6, 2011June 7th, 2011Acquisition, General
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[author type=”author”]Claire Heininger[/author]

The Army will soon usher in a new approach to testing and delivering networked capabilities, with a six-week event that puts promising new technologies in Soldiers’ hands.

With the network deemed the service’s top modernization priority, the spotlight will be on Fort Bliss, TX, and White Sands Missile Range, NM, as units from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division test-drive several Programs of Record (PORs) and more than two dozen systems from commercial-off-the-shelf suppliers and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The June-July event, known as the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), is the first of four events leading up to a fully integrated Brigade Combat Team Network Evaluation at the end of 2012.

For the Army, the NIE marks a key step in the modernization strategy that will produce networked “capability sets” beginning in FY12. Rather than delivering products on their own timelines with integration as an afterthought, the new paradigm calls for evaluating relevant capabilities in parallel, synchronizing them with deployments, and making incremental improvements based upon Soldier feedback. It adds up to a more flexible acquisition process, in which users play a crucial role.

[raw][image align=”left” caption=”Paratroopers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division use radios and smartphones to communicate during a March exercise at Fort Bragg, NC. (U.S. Army photo by Ashley Blumenfeld, Joint Program Executive Office JTRS.)” linkto=”/web/wp-content/uploads/DSC_0444_compressed.jpg” linktype=”image”]”/web/wp-content/uploads/DSC_0444_compressed.jpg” height=”167″width=”246″[/image][/raw]

“The sooner you get a new capability in the hands of a Soldier in an operational environment, the sooner you’re going to kill off an idea that is not a good one before you waste any money on it, and the sooner you will grab on to an idea that has a tremendous amount of potential,” said MG Keith C. Walker, Commanding General of Brigade Modernization Command, headquartered at Fort Bliss, in a recent interview with El Paso Inc.

After simultaneous limited user tests (LUTs) for the PORs in weeks 1-4, the NIE will culminate with an integration exercise demonstrating how the systems fit into the Army’s tactical network connecting Soldiers at all echelons. The event design, bringing together mature and emerging technologies from various sources, reflects the “plug-and-play” vision of the network espoused by GEN Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.

“To work effectively, the network must be a single, affordable, cost-effective network that will allow any system or application—whether developed by the Army, our sister services, allies, or some other agency—to ‘plug and play’ using a common operating environment that ensures the systems and applications are interoperable and user-friendly from the start,” Chiarelli recently told Congress.

Among the capabilities undergoing LUT is the new version of Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2)/Blue Force Tracking, called Joint Capabilities Release (JCR). The latest version of the Army’s friendly force tracking and messaging software is faster, more versatile, and better connected to the Marine Corps.

[raw][image align=”right” caption=”Soldiers read the technical manual as they connect the encryption device used with Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below Joint Capabilities Release during a logistics demonstration at Fort Hood, TX, last fall. (U.S. Army photo by Len Krals.)” linkto=”/web/wp-content/uploads/troubleshooting-kgv72-2.jpg” linktype=”image”]”/web/wp-content/uploads/troubleshooting-kgv72-2.jpg” height=”167″width=”246″[/image][/raw]

“It’s much better than the previous version,” said SSG Tony B. Sosa, a Military Intelligence System Maintainer/Integrator with A Company, Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. “It is not only easier to navigate, but it is a lot faster. I think it will be an excellent tool to help save lives.”

Other systems under LUT include the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit (HMS) radio, the Mounted Soldier System, the JTRS Ground Mobile Radio, and the Network Integration Kit.

As units disperse throughout Fort Bliss and White Sands, they will share voice, data, and other communications throughout the brigade over the terrestrial network provided by JTRS and the satellite communications backbone provided by the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T).

More than two dozen other systems that are not part of the formal tests are also participating, including a rugged handheld known as the Pocket-Sized Forward Entry Device, which allows forward observers to send a digital call-for-fire within 10 seconds.

Soldiers will be supported by more efficient energy sources, including an intelligent mobile power system that adjusts distribution based on need, and a hybrid energy system consisting of a lightweight tripod with a pair of 50-watt rigid-panel solar arrays, batteries, and a military generator.

At brigade headquarters, the brigade combat team commander and his staff will view a real-time, integrated air picture and receive warnings of incoming rocket, artillery, and mortar attacks. Live and simulated feeds will create a realistic, comprehensive scenario to demonstrate and evaluate Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar Indirect Fire Protection Capability.

In addition to offering vast terrain for such scenarios, Fort Bliss and White Sands will yield efficiencies as a central point for systems integration, as the Army enters the next phase of network modernization.

“With reduced resources, the importance of evaluating new products and technologies in a realistic operational environment and being able to do it quickly is that much more important,” Walker said.

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  • CLAIRE HEININGER is a staff writer for Symbolic Systems Inc., supporting the Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control, and Communications-Tactical MilTech Solutions Office. She holds a B.A. in American studies and a minor in journalism, ethics, and democracy from the University of Notre Dame.