U.S. Army’s current, future network capabilities interoperate for stronger force

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — While the Army’s newest gen­er­a­tion of its tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work back­bone under­goes its oper­a­tional test this spring, an upgrad­ed ver­sion of its ear­li­er coun­ter­part will also par­tic­i­pate in the test to ensure seam­less con­nec­tiv­i­ty and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty.

Sol­diers test­ed Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal Incre­ment 1 equip­ment at the Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion 11.2. in June 2011. (U.S. Army pho­to)
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The com­bi­na­tion of Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal, known as WIN-T, Incre­ment 2, which rep­re­sents the next gen­er­a­tion of on-the-move tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and Incre­ment 1b, which will refresh the at-the-halt net­work that is cur­rent­ly used in the­ater, will be put to the test in real­is­tic oper­a­tional sce­nar­ios to gauge how it trans­mits and deliv­ers essen­tial infor­ma­tion across the force. Because the Army will deliv­er these upgrad­ed capa­bil­i­ties to deployed units on a stag­gered sched­ule, there will be “hybrid” net­work archi­tec­tures on the bat­tle­field that must be ful­ly inte­grat­ed.

“Every incre­ment of the tac­ti­cal net­work has its place in the force,” said Col. Edward Swan­son, project man­ag­er for WIN-T. “The key to suc­cess is to ensure the cur­rent and future incre­ments can inter­op­er­ate and deliv­er the crit­i­cal data on the bat­tle­field, whether it’s the loca­tion of friend­ly forces, or a call for fire.”

The WIN-T Incre­ment 2 Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion, or IOT&E, will be held in con­junc­tion with the Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, or NIE, 12.2 at White Sands Mis­sile Range, N.M., in May. As part of the test, the 1st Sus­tain­ment Brigade in Fort Riley, Kan., will uti­lize Incre­ment 1b for con­nec­tiv­i­ty into the Incre­ment 2 net­work to demon­strate and test the inter­op­er­abil­i­ty between the two ver­sions. In prepa­ra­tion for the event, four weeks of WIN-T Incre­ment 1b New Equip­ment Train­ing, known as NET, began in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary for the 1st Sus­tain­ment Brigade.

Two weeks of NET Tac­ti­cal Hub Node train­ing is also sched­uled for ear­ly March for the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion, at Fort Camp­bell, Ky., which will serve as the divi­sion head­quar­ters ele­ment for the IOT&E.

WIN-T Incre­ment 2 is a major enhance­ment to the tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions back­bone and a crit­i­cal piece of Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13 — the first inte­grat­ed group of net­work tech­nolo­gies out of the NIE process that will be field­ed to up to eight brigade com­bat teams start­ing in fis­cal year 2013. The semi-annu­al NIEs lever­age a full brigade com­bat team to assess new net­work capa­bil­i­ties in a real­is­tic oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment.

WIN-T Incre­ments 1 and 2 have already suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed a num­ber of oth­er inter­op­er­abil­i­ty tests, both at the Joint Inter­op­er­abil­i­ty Test Com­mand at Fort Huachu­ca, Ariz., and at the Cen­tral Tech­ni­cal Sup­port Facil­i­ty at Fort Hood, Texas, which con­ducts ongo­ing Army Inter­op­er­abil­i­ty Cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, said Lt. Col. Robert Collins, prod­uct man­ag­er for WIN-T Incre­ments 2 and 3.

Incre­ments 1 and 2 were also inte­grat­ed dur­ing the NIE 12.1 in Octo­ber-Novem­ber 2011, which gave the Army a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to eval­u­ate WIN-T Incre­ment 2 in an oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment and obtain ini­tial Sol­dier feed­back six months before its for­mal IOT&E.

“It was a use­ful exer­cise and prob­a­bly one of the unique times that we will equip a sin­gle brigade with both WIN-T Incre­ment 1 and Incre­ment 2,” Collins said. “They were able to inter­op­er­ate rel­a­tive­ly well in this con­struct.”

Help­ing to ensure the inter­op­er­abil­i­ty of the dif­fer­ent incre­ments and net­work com­po­nents of WIN-T is the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Sys­tems Design Cen­ter, at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground, Md., which con­tains both WIN-T Incre­ment 1 and Incre­ment 2 tech­nol­o­gy to test oper­a­tional require­ments and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with­in the net­work. Cur­rent­ly, it is con­duct­ing inte­gra­tion and pre-test­ing for WIN-T Incre­ment 1 and Incre­ment 2 inter­op­er­abil­i­ty for the upcom­ing IOT&E.

Sim­i­lar to a home Inter­net con­nec­tion, WIN-T Incre­ment 1 estab­lish­es a net­work back­bone that pro­vides the full range of data, voice and video com­mu­ni­ca­tions at bat­tal­ion lev­el and above, with Sol­diers hav­ing only to pull over to the side of the road to com­mu­ni­cate. WIN-T Incre­ment 2 intro­duces addi­tion­al capa­bil­i­ties includ­ing an ini­tial on-the-move com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work that reach­es down to the com­pa­ny ech­e­lon for the first time.

To date, WIN-T Incre­ment 1 equip­ment has been field­ed to rough­ly 200 units, or 96 per­cent of the units iden­ti­fied to receive Incre­ment 1 equip­ment. But it is head­ing toward a big mile­stone in mid-spring when the Incre­ment 1 field­ings will be 100 per­cent com­plete, pro­vid­ing for the first time a WIN-T Incre­ment 1-equipped force across the entire Army.

In rough­ly the same time­frame, the WIN-T Incre­ment 1a upgrades will also be com­plet­ed, estab­lish­ing a com­mon base­line across the force. Army units orig­i­nal­ly field­ed with the ear­li­est ver­sion of the Army’s net­work, the Joint Net­work Node that began field­ing in 2004, are being upgrad­ed to this com­mon base­line. Incre­ment 1a pro­vides new­er tech­nol­o­gy for increased capa­bil­i­ty, a longer equip­ment life cycle and more effi­cient tech­nol­o­gy refresh­ments.

Incre­ment 1a units can com­mu­ni­cate direct­ly with one anoth­er with min­i­mum lag and opti­mum results. How­ev­er, if need­ed they can also oper­ate with Incre­ment 2 units. An Incre­ment 1a unit can “talk” to an Incre­ment 2 unit, but instead of using a direct link, it needs to take two “hops” instead of just one direct trans­mis­sion. The sig­nal is first sent from the Incre­ment 1a loca­tion to a hub node, either to a Region­al Hub Node or to a divi­sion head­quar­ters Tac­ti­cal Hub Node, and the node then sends it to the Incre­ment 2 loca­tion.

The upcom­ing WIN-T Incre­ment 1b upgrade pro­vides increased inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with Incre­ment 2 by tak­ing advan­tage of the Net­work Cen­tric Wave­form, or NCW, through use of an NCW modem for satel­lite trans­mis­sions. The NCW is a more capa­ble wave­form and allows for increased effi­cien­cy of the exist­ing band­width on satel­lites. WIN-T Incre­ment 1b will add the Incre­ment 2 NCW modem to all of its Satel­lite Trans­portable Ter­mi­nals, act­ing as a bridge between Incre­ment 1 and Incre­ment 2.

Both of the two cur­rent modems will be retained in Incre­ment 1b sys­tems, but the addi­tion of the NCW modem pro­vides direct trans­mis­sion between Incre­ment 1 and Incre­ment 2 nodes, said Shan­non Jones, Oper­a­tions and Spe­cial Projects chief for PdM WIN-T Incre­ment 1.

To fur­ther increase inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, WIN-T Incre­ment 1b will incor­po­rate a “col­or­less core” secu­ri­ty enclave, which will also be uti­lized by Incre­ment 2. The col­or­less core increas­es capa­bil­i­ty by encrypt­ing all data, both clas­si­fied and unclas­si­fied, as it is trans­port­ed over satel­lites and line-of-sight links, enabling Sol­diers to send infor­ma­tion across the bat­tle­field more secure­ly and effi­cient­ly than ever before.

WIN-T Incre­ment 1b and Incre­ment 2 also share the same base­line set of Net­work Oper­a­tions tools, although Incre­ment 2 NetOps have addi­tion­al capa­bil­i­ties. NetOps facil­i­tate the plan­ning, ini­tial­iza­tion, mon­i­tor­ing, man­age­ment and response of the net­work.

Begin­ning in late sum­mer, the Army will start to upgrade all WIN-T Incre­ment 1a units to Incre­ment 1b, with a pro­ject­ed com­ple­tion date expect­ed in fis­cal year 2016. Due to the amount of time it will take to field Incre­ment 1b across the force, over the next sev­er­al years there will be some hybrid net­work archi­tec­tures on the bat­tle­field, Jones said.

“Poten­tial­ly you could have Incre­ments 1a, 1b and 2 all fight­ing in the same bat­tle­space,” Jones said. “We need to ensure that every­thing is inter­op­er­a­ble and that all net­works are healed at the hub node at a min­i­mum.”

Going for­ward, Incre­ment 1b will be field­ed to all of the units that will not be receiv­ing Incre­ment 2. Pro­por­tion­al­ly one third of the Army’s sys­tems will be field­ed with Incre­ment 2, while the remain­ing two thirds will remain with Incre­ment 1b. WIN-T Incre­ment 2 will be field­ed to divi­sion head­quar­ters and brigade com­bat teams, known as BCTs, at the brigade and below lev­el where the on-the-move capa­bil­i­ty is crit­i­cal. All oth­er units that are not BCTs will retain Incre­ment 1b equip­ment, which oper­ates at-the-halt, Jones said.

“A lot of the inter­op­er­abil­i­ty comes down to how you con­fig­ure things,” Jones said. “We have the right hard­ware in place. It’s just a mat­ter of mak­ing sure we con­fig­ure things cor­rect­ly to account for all of the dif­fer­ences out there, and not just with WIN-T capa­bil­i­ties, but with all oth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems that par­tic­i­pate in the tac­ti­cal net­work.”

U.S. Army

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