By Amy Walker, PEO C3T Public Affairs
FORT EUSTIS, Va. (Dec. 22, 2015) – The Army is fielding upgrades for its at-the-halt tactical communications network backbone, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 1 (WIN-T Inc 1), that will increase capability while reducing equipment by a third for a more mobile expeditionary force.
In support of the effort, Army contracting specialists serve as the middlemen between the program office that procures the new commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology and services and the industry contractors who supply it.
“Technology changes by the minute, and it’s very important to keep up with that technology to ensure that our Soldiers in theater have the very best that we can provide,” said Kevin Andralliski, Global Tactical Advanced Communication Systems (GTACS) contract specialist for the Army Contracting Command (ACC). “Communication capability is key to everything Soldiers do, and these network capabilities enable them to know what is going on around them; it keeps them alive.”
The satellite and the line-of-sight WIN-T Inc 1 network provide high-speed, high-capacity voice, video and data communications at-the-quick-halt down to the battalion level, even in the most austere environments. It is the tactical network backbone to which other networked communication systems and mission command applications need to connect in order to function.
In late November 2015, ACC contracting specialists and personnel from GTACS and the Common Hardware Systems (CHS) program office, part of the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications – Tactical and based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, visited the Army Reserve 392nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB) in Fort Eustis, Virginia, to see how the unit’s newly upgraded network equipment performed in the hands of deploying Soldiers. The Army began fielding the WIN-T Inc 1 Tactical Network Upgrades in October 2014. The 392nd ESB is first of its type and the second unit overall to receive the upgrade.
“These modernization upgrades provide improvements in readiness, security, bandwidth and capability, while reducing size, weight and power [SWaP] requirements so the Army’s tactical network can enable a more effective and expeditionary force,” said CPT Christopher Bieber, assistant product manager for WIN-T Inc 1. “Today, WIN-T Inc 1 serves about 95 percent of the Army’s tactical network; it’s essentially the internet for the conventional Army force. Equipment modernization efforts such as these will ensure that the WIN-T Inc 1 network can continue to support U.S. forces through 2029.”
The WIN-T Inc 1 tactical network upgrades will improve unit readiness and include new commercial hardware and software components such as routers, switches, servers and firewalls, which replace aging and outdated equipment while providing enhanced capability. Additionally, the upgrade reduces SWaP requirements by combining capabilities that once required their own hardware onto virtualized servers.
“Equipment has a limited life cycle and eventually it goes end-of-life and you have to replace it,” said Dinh Nguyen, CHS systems engineer in support of Project Manager (PM) WIN-T for the ACC. “The Army is moving toward a smaller footprint with greater capability, and this new equipment provides that increased capability.”
To improve efficiencies in cost and time and reduce unit down-time, the Army is fielding other network upgrades simultaneously. The 392nd ESB also received the ongoing WIN-T Increment 1b upgrade, which improves the network’s security and efficiency.
Contracting Professionals Key to Modernization
“We cannot modernize today’s Army without the assistance of our contracting professionals who help provide the best value and capability in support of the current and future force,” said LTC Mark Henderson, product manager for WIN-T Inc 1. “They are absolutely essential in the process. These personnel are some of the unsung heroes in our business, so we’ve decided to make them a part of future WIN-T Inc 1 fielding activities so they will always be connected and keenly aware of what their countless hours of dedication and hard work help to deliver. I can’t do my job without them.”
In effect, PM WIN-T Inc 1 procured the engineering and design services for the tactical network upgrades through the GTACS contract and it procured the hardware, such as laptops, routers and transit cases, for the upgrade through the CHS contract. The GTACS and CHS contracts complement each other and together they comprehensively deliver tactical mission command and communications capabilities to fill the requirements of Army units worldwide.
GTACS is a five-year, multiple award, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with a $10 billion ceiling, and enables customers to rapidly meet requirements for equipment and associated support services. The contract provides for three functional areas: research and development, production and deployment, and sustainment and logistics. Regardless of where a capability is in the acquisition life cycle, its program office can utilize this contract to support its requirements.
CHS provides state-of-the-art COTS information technology computing and networking equipment that improves connectivity, interoperability, logistics and maintenance support to Soldiers. Via one technology insertion or one contractual modification, CHS can design, develop, modify, ruggedize, environmentally test, procure, sustain and provide configuration management under a single part number.
The contracting office serves as the liaison between the PM WIN-T Inc 1 and industry vendors to ensure their requirements are current and properly defined. The office then builds a contract and chooses the right industry contractor to meet those requirements, based on a variety of factors, including cost, performance and capability, said Andralliski.
“The bottom line is that we always collaborate closely with the ACC to obtain the best value for the taxpayer, and we make sure the requirement is met and is exactly what the customer–the PM—wants,” said Angelo Jaco, lead engineer in support of intelligence programs for CHS.
For several of the CHS staff, such as David Laughinghouse, CHS systems engineer, the visit to the 392nd ESB at Fort Eustis was their first opportunity to actually see the equipment they helped procure in its end state—in the hands of Soldiers.
“I used to be a Soldier, so I have seen network equipment in different aspects in the field, but when I started working with CHS, I just saw the equipment on my desk or in the lab,” Laughinghouse said. “It’s good [to see it with a unit].”
The new WIN-T Inc 1 network technology provides more power, capability and robustness in a smaller footprint. To overmatch increasingly capable enemies, the Army plans to continue to modernize its network equipment and take advantage of improving technology, calling on the contracting office to provide the best contract to meet the needs of the taxpayer and the Soldier. Periodically pulling contracting specialists into the field provides them with insight into the scope of their contributions and a broader vision that can be applied to their contracting efforts.
“Since I deal with it every day, this network equipment is very familiar to me. But having a clearer understanding of where it all falls into place in a real-world scenario is pretty exciting,” said Daniel Malloy, CHS contracting specialist for the ACC. “We are helping to make things happen, to improve initiatives aboard. Communication is always the first thing that has to be established [on the battlefield] and that’s pretty powerful.”