US Army network integration facilities simulate battlefield environment

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Armed with the abil­i­ty to recre­ate a bat­tle­field net­work envi­ron­ment in its mul­ti­ple inte­grat­ed test­ing facil­i­ties here, the Army is pro­vid­ing advanced tech­nolo­gies to the field faster and with greater effi­cien­cy.

Sol­diers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Divi­sion, test equip­ment dur­ing a Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion at White Sands Mis­sile Range, N.M.
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“The com­mu­ni­ca­tions inte­gra­tion facil­i­ties at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground, or APG, are inte­grat­ed them­selves and work in tan­dem to sup­port the con­tin­ued evo­lu­tion of pro­grams of record, as well as lay the ground­work for Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tions, and these attrib­ut­es accel­er­ate the process of get­ting capa­bil­i­ty into the hands of the Sol­dier,” said Col. Edward Swan­son, Project Man­ag­er for Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal, known as PM WIN‑T, which uti­lizes two of the inte­gra­tion facil­i­ties for WIN‑T net­work testing. 

The Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office for Com­mand, Con­trol, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions-Tac­ti­cal, or PEO C3T, to which PM WIN‑T is assigned, along with oth­er Army orga­ni­za­tion­al part­ners cap­i­tal­ized on the Base Realign­ment and Clo­sure com­plet­ed in Sep­tem­ber 2011, which relo­cat­ed orga­ni­za­tions from Fort Mon­mouth, N.J. to APG. By con­sol­i­dat­ing and ful­ly inte­grat­ing the var­i­ous test­ing facil­i­ties with direct fiber optic con­nec­tiv­i­ty, they are now able to work close­ly with each oth­er to improve and advance cur­rent and future tech­nolo­gies more rapid­ly than ever before. 

“Hav­ing a cam­pus infra­struc­ture that sup­ports the abil­i­ty to hook up dif­fer­ent inte­gra­tion facil­i­ties on an ad hoc basis is tremen­dous,” said Joseph Sharpe, WIN‑T senior sys­tems engi­neer. “It’s def­i­nite­ly much quick­er and eas­i­er to get things done. There’s a lot less paper­work in the way between the var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions and it’s a big gain in efficiency.” 

PM WIN‑T con­sol­i­dat­ed its net­work inte­gra­tion facil­i­ties that were once wide­ly scat­tered across the base of Fort Mon­mouth into just two neigh­bor­ing facil­i­ties. The Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Sys­tems Design Cen­ter, or CSDC, tests and eval­u­ates the capa­bil­i­ties, equip­ment and inte­gra­tion of the WIN‑T net­work — the Army’s tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions back­bone — while the Joint Satel­lite Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, or JSEC, pri­mar­i­ly focus­es on satel­lite communication. 

The con­sol­i­da­tion of WIN‑T’s mul­ti­ple facil­i­ties led to a major increase in effi­cien­cy, enabling PM WIN‑T and its sis­ter orga­ni­za­tions to get capa­bil­i­ty to the field quick­er, improve exist­ing tech­nolo­gies and pre­pare for larg­er eval­u­a­tions and test events such as the NIEs, Sharpe said. 

“When you start build­ing and want­i­ng to test an inte­grat­ed archi­tec­ture as you get clos­er to putting your sys­tem in the field, it has to inter­op­er­ate with all the oth­er sys­tems,” said Rich Greel, tech­ni­cal man­age­ment divi­sion chief for PM WIN‑T. “So hav­ing the abil­i­ty to hook up and do inte­gra­tion test­ing ahead of some of these field events is fantastic.” 

PEO C3T lever­aged the capa­bil­i­ties of the CSDC and JSEC to pre­pare for the Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, or NIE, 12.1 in Octo­ber-Novem­ber 2011 and will do the same for future NIEs. NIE 12.1 was a three-week event that involved the 3,800 Sol­diers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Divi­sion, and near­ly 1,000 vehi­cles spread across the aus­tere envi­ron­ment of White Sands Mis­sile Range, N.M, or WSMR

The NIE con­sists of a series of semi-annu­al field exer­cis­es to eval­u­ate, inte­grate, and mature the Army’s tac­ti­cal net­work and estab­lish an Inte­grat­ed Net­work Base­line. Pre-test­ing and inte­gra­tion can be con­duct­ed at the CSDC pri­or to these larg­er events to work out as many tech­ni­cal issues as pos­si­ble. Since many of the need­ed sub­ject mat­ter experts for the dif­fer­ent pro­to­cols, prod­ucts or sys­tems are all locat­ed in the same area, it makes sense for the facil­i­ty do this net­work test­ing prep-work up front, Greel said. 

“If you have an issue or prob­lem some­body right here can deal with it and you don’t have to put them on a plane, clear their secu­ri­ty, and dri­ve them out to the WSMR three days lat­er,” Greel said. “It’s much bet­ter to get these prob­lems worked out early.” 

The CSDC con­tains both WIN‑T Incre­ment 1 and WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 tech­nol­o­gy to test oper­a­tional require­ments and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with­in the WIN‑T net­work. Cur­rent­ly, it is con­duct­ing inte­gra­tion and pre-test­ing for WIN‑T Incre­ment 1 and Incre­ment 2 inter­op­er­abil­i­ty for the upcom­ing WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion, known as IOT&E, which will be held in con­junc­tion with NIE 12.2 at WSMR

Sim­i­lar to a home Inter­net con­nec­tion, WIN‑T Incre­ment 1 pro­vides Sol­diers down to the bat­tal­ion lev­el with high-speed, high-capac­i­ty voice, data and video com­mu­ni­ca­tions to units on the bat­tle­field, at-the-halt or at-the-quick-halt. WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 will pro­vide this net­work to mil­i­tary for­ma­tions while on the move down to the com­pa­ny level. 

“By hav­ing a facil­i­ty where you can cre­ate these ad hoc sce­nar­ios that emu­late what’s going to show up out there [at WSMR], you do a lot less engi­neer­ing in the field and more learn­ing out at the NIE,” Greel said. 

While the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions-Elec­tron­ics Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, or CERDEC, owns the two facil­i­ties, PM WIN‑T staffs and pro­vides the WIN‑T pro­gram equipment. 

Although the JSEC focus­es pri­mar­i­ly on satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tion, both of the WIN‑T facil­i­ties pos­sess satel­lite capa­bil­i­ty and can talk to each oth­er over the air or through the fiber net­work. How­ev­er, due to the high price of satel­lite air time it is not cost effec­tive to use a satel­lite capa­bil­i­ty to con­duct much of the test­ing, so net­work per­for­mance can be test­ed over sim­u­lat­ed satel­lite links. 

“The fact that we can emu­late that field envi­ron­ment with­out hav­ing to spend a lot of mon­ey, with­out hav­ing to spend satel­lite time, allows us to sup­port the Sol­dier bet­ter in a more cost effec­tive man­ner than we would oth­er­wise be able to do,” Sharpe said. 

Since the CSDC has direct fiber con­nec­tiv­i­ty to the oth­er organization’s inte­gra­tion facil­i­ties at APG, such as CERDEC’s Radio Eval­u­a­tion Analy­sis Lab, known as REAL, WIN‑T engi­neers can help ensure that these tech­nolo­gies inter­op­er­ate with and sup­port the WIN‑T network. 

While the CSDC pos­sess­es radios that work with­in the WIN‑T net­work such as the High­band Net­work­ing Radio and the High Capac­i­ty Line-Of-Sight radio, the REAL pro­vides oth­er tac­ti­cal Army radios such as the AN/PRC-117Gs and Joint Tac­ti­cal Radio Sys­tem, or JTRS, Rifle­man Radios. As the Army con­tin­ues its effort to increase com­mu­ni­ca­tion capac­i­ty at the com­pa­ny and pla­toon lev­els, these oth­er radios are required to be inte­grat­ed into the net­work archi­tec­ture. Because of the fiber con­nec­tiv­i­ty between the facil­i­ties, all of the sys­tems can be test­ed togeth­er as if they were in the same location. 

Sev­er­al dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tion items are set up in the CSDC to sim­u­late how the sys­tems work in the field and through var­i­ous ech­e­lons, enabling engi­neers to work in a near real-world test envi­ron­ment and pro­duce cred­i­ble results. For exam­ple, the equip­ment and capa­bil­i­ties with­in WIN‑T net­work shel­ters such as Joint Net­work Nodes and Bat­tal­ion Com­mand Posts are set up inside the facil­i­ty with­out their platforms. 

“The capa­bil­i­ties are posi­tioned and con­fig­ured just as they would be if they were inside the vehicle’s shel­ter,” Sharpe said. “Although they are inside the facil­i­ty, every­thing still pass­es infor­ma­tion in much the same way.” 

When Sol­diers in the­ater have prob­lems that can­not be resolved by tra­di­tion­al field sup­port, their more dif­fi­cult issues are sent to the engi­neers in the CSDC who can sim­u­late the field envi­ron­ments and repro­duce the exact sce­nar­ios in the lab to come up with viable solu­tions. Since the cur­rent fight has many Sol­diers locat­ed on remote for­ward oper­at­ing bases, WIN‑T engi­neers are find­ing that Sol­diers are uti­liz­ing WIN‑T equip­ment in unique and unex­pect­ed ways, Greel said. 

These new uses can be test­ed in the facil­i­ty to work out any issues that may arise. The facil­i­ty also allows Engi­neer­ing Change Pro­pos­als, which improve sys­tems through incre­men­tal upgrades of new tech­nol­o­gy, to be test­ed pri­or to being released in the field. 

Even though WIN‑T Incre­ment 1 is cur­rent­ly field­ed to 92 per­cent of the cur­rent force, it is still evolv­ing through tech­nol­o­gy refresh­es that are bring­ing all of WIN‑T Incre­ment 1 to the same base­line. Much of this test­ing is con­duct­ed at the CSDC

As the pro­gres­sion from WIN‑T Incre­ment 1 to Incre­ment 2 con­tin­ues, the facil­i­ty will also pro­vide the need­ed test­ing to ensure that all of the capa­bil­i­ties of both incre­ments, as well as future capa­bil­i­ties, can inter­op­er­ate between them­selves and oth­er sys­tems. Much of the inter­nal test­ing for these incre­men­tal improve­ments to the dif­fer­ent WIN‑T sys­tems is done in the CSDC and JSEC

“These facil­i­ties allow us to give the Sol­dier bet­ter equip­ment up front, and once the equip­ment is in the field, it allows us to bet­ter sup­port the Sol­dier as they uti­lize that equip­ment to exe­cute their mis­sion,” Greel said. 

U.S. Army 

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