USA — Handhelds connect Soldiers at Army network exercise

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. — As he maneu­vered his squad across the desert, secur­ing objec­tives in vil­lages along the way, Staff Sgt. Jesus Vasquez tracked his squad’s move­ments not with a note pad or map, but with an Army-issued hand­held device.

A Sol­dier from 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Divi­sion, demon­strates a Nett War­rior device dur­ing NIE 12.2. As part of Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13, Nett War­rior is a Sol­dier-worn, smart­phone-like mis­sion com­mand sys­tem that con­nects with the JTRS Rifle­man Radio to pro­vide dis­mount­ed lead­ers with increased sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness and mis­sion-relat­ed “apps.“
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Flip­ping open the smart­phone-like device worn on the front of his uni­form, Vasquez tapped the screen to record what he saw — infor­ma­tion that quick­ly trav­eled over the Army net­work to the rest of his pla­toon.

“We can plot any­thing from ene­my posi­tions to friend­ly posi­tions to IEDs [impro­vised explo­sive devices],” Vasquez said. “It’s just like a phone — every­body these days has a smart­phone, so it’s real­ly easy to use.”

The Nett War­rior devices used by Sol­diers like Vasquez dur­ing last month’s Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, or NIE, 12.2 aim to empow­er low­er-ech­e­lon Sol­dier-lead­ers with unprece­dent­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions and sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness. Con­nect­ed to the Joint Tac­ti­cal Radio Sys­tem, known as JTRS, Rifle­man Radio and run­ning the Army’s next-gen­er­a­tion blue force track­ing soft­ware, known as Joint Bat­tle Com­mand-Plat­form, or JBC‑P, Nett War­rior pro­vides dis­mount­ed lead­ers with the kind of dig­i­tal infor­ma­tion that today is only avail­able inside vehi­cles or com­mand posts.

The Android-based devices can con­nect to the Army’s larg­er tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work through both the JTRS radio wave­forms and the Blue Force Track­ing 2 satel­lite net­work, lever­ag­ing a “gate­way” in vehi­cles equipped with JBC‑P. The Nett War­rior sys­tem aims to elim­i­nate the time delay and human error asso­ci­at­ed with radio com­mu­ni­ca­tions, instead giv­ing Sol­diers net­worked hand­held devices to exchange mes­sages and dig­i­tal­ly track one another’s loca­tions.

“If you’re on a radio, you have to lis­ten, you have to write, you have to con­firm — there’s a time delay process,” said Mark Frye, a retired first sergeant who is now Nett War­rior team lead at NIE. “If it is a pub­lished mes­sage on a hand­held, we know how fast kids can text mes­sages back and forth. It’s the same con­cept, but you’re doing it from Sol­dier to Sol­dier.”

Dur­ing NIE 12.2, Sol­diers eval­u­at­ed Nett War­rior dur­ing a vig­or­ous oper­a­tional sce­nario that required the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Divi­sion to com­bat con­ven­tion­al ene­my forces, insur­gents, crim­i­nal ele­ments and elec­tron­ic war­fare, stretch­ing the brigade and the net­work across more than 100 miles of rugged ter­rain. With the for­mal oper­a­tional tests for both Nett War­rior and JBC‑P sched­uled to take place at NIE 13.1 this fall, NIE 12.2 served to reduce risk by famil­iar­iz­ing Sol­diers with the equip­ment and inte­grat­ing it into the larg­er tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work.

The up-front inte­gra­tion lever­ages the six-month NIE cycle and fol­lows a pat­tern set by Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal, or WIN‑T, Incre­ment 2, which was inte­grat­ed into tac­ti­cal for­ma­tions at NIE 12.1 to pro­vide an ear­ly oper­a­tional look at the sys­tem pri­or to its Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion, known as an IOT&E, at NIE 12.2. The NIE con­struct will also pro­duce sig­nif­i­cant cost sav­ings by com­bin­ing key ele­ments of the JBC‑P and Nett War­rior for­mal tests.

“The NIE 13.1 archi­tec­ture is designed so that we can instru­ment the sys­tems to col­lect data on Nett War­rior and JBC‑P,” said Lt. Col. Mark Daniels, prod­uct man­ag­er for JBC‑P. “We’re going to be able to share data col­lec­tors and essen­tial­ly we’re going to sup­port one another’s IOT&E. Pri­or to NIE, that would be a rare thing.”

Extend­ing the net­work to Sol­dier-lead­ers at the tac­ti­cal edge through Nett War­rior is a key com­po­nent of the Army’s Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13, the first inte­grat­ed pack­age of tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions gear that will be field­ed to eight brigade com­bat teams start­ing in Octo­ber.

Along with the abil­i­ty to track and plot friend­ly forces, ene­mies and obsta­cles, the JBC‑P soft­ware for Nett War­rior hand­helds also pro­vides Sol­diers with var­i­ous “apps” for every­thing from an address book to route plan­ning to drop­ping a “chem light” icon on a cleared build­ing. The chem light appli­ca­tion evolved from units’ use of the real thing to des­ig­nate areas as safe or dan­ger­ous, Frye said.

“When you see a bunker or build­ing, you toss a red chem light in and that’s a dan­ger area — that lets every­body know that’s pos­si­ble ene­my ter­ri­to­ry,” he said. “Once you have cleared the build­ing, there was a green phys­i­cal chem light that you paint­ed or taped to the side of the build­ing on the friend­ly side and it let every­body know that’s the good build­ing. Sol­diers came to us and said, ‘Hey we want that, but we want it dig­i­tal­ly.’ ”

Today, the chem lights take the form of cir­cu­lar icons in four col­ors, which sig­ni­fy dif­fer­ent threat lev­els based on each unit’s stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dures.

“If the red chem light des­ig­nates a build­ing as dan­ger area and that com­man­der or pla­toon leader tells that squad to clear that build­ing, once they’re done, on their hand­held they turn it green,” Frye said. “Every­body has imme­di­ate feed­back. You do not need to be on the friend­ly side of the build­ing to see it — all you have to do is look at your dis­play.”

The hand­helds also allow Sol­diers to take pho­tos using an app for Tac­ti­cal Ground Report­ing, known as TIGR, which cre­ates a his­tor­i­cal data­base of peo­ple, places and events on the bat­tle­field. Once sent through the net­work, the pho­tos are avail­able in the TIGR data­base to the rest of the brigade.

“Say we find a weapons cache — (we can) take a pic­ture of it with this phone and get it right up on TIGR and get it right to high­er (head­quar­ters) as soon as pos­si­ble,” Spc. Aaron Boatwright said. “That pic­ture will also have a time­stamp and a loca­tion on it, so there’s no deny­ing where that pic­ture came from.”

U.S. Army