Army concludes second Network Integration Evaluation

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. — The Army has con­clud­ed its sec­ond Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, mov­ing clos­er to deploy­ing an inte­grat­ed bat­tle­field net­work after col­lect­ing valu­able Sol­dier feed­back on the lat­est tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies.

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The three-week event, known as Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, or NIE, 12.1, rep­re­sent­ed the first time that all of the com­po­nents of the Army net­work to be field­ed in fis­cal year 2013 were unit­ed and eval­u­at­ed in a real­is­tic oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment. Sol­diers at the low­est ech­e­lons were brought into the net­work, com­mu­ni­cat­ing through text mes­sages, dig­i­tal pho­tos and chat rooms. 

Com­pa­ny com­man­ders made quick deci­sions using infor­ma­tion received in real time while mov­ing around the bat­tle­field. New hard­ware and soft­ware was inte­grat­ed for the first time out­side of a lab, and put to the test in moun­tain­ous desert ter­rain that mir­rors the com­mu­ni­ca­tions chal­lenges in rugged places such as Afghanistan. 

“We are get­ting a great look at con­nect­ing the Sol­dier to the net­work, and a fan­tas­tic look at mis­sion com­mand on the move — for the first time in an oper­a­tional set­ting,” said Col. John Mor­ri­son, direc­tor of the Army G‑3/5/7 Land­War­Net-Bat­tle Com­mand Direc­torate. “For the first time we’ve got every­thing talk­ing togeth­er, so now we can estab­lish an inte­grat­ed net­work base­line. It’s just been phenomenal.” 

The sec­ond in a series of semi-annu­al field exer­cis­es designed to rapid­ly inte­grate and mature the Army’s tac­ti­cal net­work, NIE 12.1 involved 3,800 Sol­diers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Divi­sion eval­u­at­ing dozens of sys­tems in oper­a­tional sce­nar­ios. Sol­dier feed­back and test results from the NIEs are direct­ly shap­ing the make­up of the Army’s net­work Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13, which will begin field­ing to up to eight brigade com­bat teams in fis­cal year 2013. 

Addi­tion­al brigades will receive the lat­est net­work assets as part of Capa­bil­i­ty Set 14. 

Those capa­bil­i­ty sets will include greater band­width to trans­mit voice, video and data across the bat­tle­field, as well as the abil­i­ty to bring sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness and mis­sion com­mand infor­ma­tion down to the dis­mount­ed Soldier. 

NIE 12.1 was also host to the Joint Tac­ti­cal Radio Sys­tem, or JTRS, Rifle­man Radio pro­gram of record test. This radio, which is car­ried by pla­toon, squad and team-lev­el Sol­diers for voice com­mu­ni­ca­tions, can con­nect with hand­held devices to trans­mit text mes­sages, GPS loca­tions and oth­er data. Sol­diers with 2/1 AD also infor­mal­ly eval­u­at­ed more than 45 oth­er sys­tems, includ­ing solu­tions pro­posed by indus­try to meet the Army’s iden­ti­fied net­work capa­bil­i­ty gaps. 

“Get­ting infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy to the field in a rapid fash­ion is what we’re try­ing to do here,” said Col. Dan Hugh­es, the Army’s sys­tem of sys­tems inte­gra­tion direc­tor. “Some of the sys­tems that are here are sys­tems that indus­try paid their mon­ey for, that they built, that they brought out, and are in the hands of Sol­diers prob­a­bly five to six years before they would be in the hands of Sol­diers if we had gone through the reg­u­lar (process). And they’re get­ting feed­back immediately.” 

That feed­back, rang­ing from rave reviews to harsh crit­i­cism, will inform the Army’s deci­sions about what equip­ment to pur­chase and make part of the next capa­bil­i­ty set, as well as how some gear could be improved with cer­tain changes. 

That was the case with Nett War­rior, a Sol­dier-worn mis­sion com­mand sys­tem that 2/1 AD Sol­diers deemed valu­able but too bulky dur­ing the first NIE event. Those results informed Army lead­er­ship to revise the require­ment, which result­ed in a slimmed down ver­sion and a reduc­tion of pro­cure­ment costs for the device. This new ver­sion that lever­ages com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy debuted at this NIE and pro­vid­ed dis­mount­ed com­bat lead­ers with essen­tial infor­ma­tion, such as dig­i­tal maps, text mes­sag­ing and the GPS loca­tions of friend­ly forces. 

“With a radio you can tell them where you’re at, but with this they don’t even have to ask,” said Pfc. Philip Kerr, one of the Sol­diers using Nett War­rior in mis­sion threads here. “If there’s ever a sit­u­a­tion where I’m down here and I can’t see the oth­er side of a town, I can pop it up on a (dig­i­tal) map. I can then see where every­one else is at, and that can be very valu­able in case some­thing goes wrong.” 

The Nett War­rior devices con­nect to the net­work via the Rifle­man Radio and its Sol­dier Radio Wave­form. They run Joint Bat­tle Com­mand-Plat­form, or JBC‑P, soft­ware, the future ver­sion of the wide­ly field­ed Force XXI Bat­tle Com­mand Brigade and Below/Blue Force Track­ing, known as FBCB2/BFT, sys­tem, which allows units to track friend­ly forces and exchange mes­sages in order to syn­chro­nize oper­a­tions and avoid frat­ri­cide. The soft­ware will host appli­ca­tions devel­oped by the Army and third par­ties — sim­i­lar to the “apps” mar­ket­place used on the Apple iPhone or Google Android oper­at­ing systems. 

“We want to take the same capa­bil­i­ties that we have in our vehi­cles, in our com­mand posts, in our air­craft, and pro­vide them to the dis­mount­ed Sol­dier, specif­i­cal­ly at the team leader through pla­toon leader lev­el,” said Maj. Antho­ny Dou­glas, assis­tant prod­uct man­ag­er for Blue Force Track­ing — Soft­ware. “Right now, Sol­diers in Afghanistan are using (lega­cy) radios and hand and arm sig­nals to com­mu­ni­cate with each other.” 

The cur­rent ver­sion of FBCB2, known as the Joint Capa­bil­i­ties Release, or JCR, for its inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with the Marine Corps, earned pos­i­tive Sol­dier feed­back for its new chat func­tion. JCR Chat works like an online chat room with­in FBCB2, allow­ing users to instant-mes­sage in real time over the BFT 2 satel­lite network. 

“It’s super easy to use — any­body that’s been on a chat room before knows how to use it,” Staff Sgt. Cody Moose said. “You can have mul­ti­ple chat rooms, too. We use it for every mission.” 

The Sol­dier input and sys­tem data col­lect­ed dur­ing NIE 12.1 will be reviewed by a tri­ad con­sist­ing of the Brigade Mod­ern­iza­tion Com­mand, the Army Test and Eval­u­a­tion Com­mand and the Sys­tem of Sys­tems Inte­gra­tion Direc­torate under the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of the Army for Acqui­si­tion, Logis­tics and Tech­nol­o­gy, or ASA(ALT).

The next event, known as NIE 12.2, will take place in the spring and fur­ther solid­i­fy the Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13 net­work. The six-week event will include the for­mal oper­a­tional test for the Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal, known as WIN‑T, Incre­ment 2, the Army’s on-the-move, satel­lite-based com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work, which was infor­mal­ly eval­u­at­ed at NIE 12.1.

WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 is a major upgrade to the tac­ti­cal net­work back­bone that will extend satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions to the com­pa­ny lev­el, allow­ing Sol­diers to com­mu­ni­cate seam­less­ly through voice, data, images and video — even in com­plex ter­rain that can break line-of-sight radio connections. 

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