Army leaders praise successful network integration exercise
July 23, 2010
By Kris Osborn
- The exercise is envisioned as a key step within the larger developmental trajectory of the Army's battlefield network
- The exercise was designed to help validate the concept of the objective network planned for 2017
- A terrestrial network of sensors sent voice, images and data through Joint Tactical Radio Systems, or JTRS software programmable radios
WASHINGTON (July 23, 2010) -- The U.S. Army's Brigade Combat Team Integration exercise at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., July 12-16 connected Soldiers, sensors, UAVs, networked vehicles on-the-move, command posts and other nodes over long distances through satellite and software-programmable radios as part of an effort to evaluate the progress of its battlefield network.
"The Army's battlefield network is showing itself to be extremely relevant to today's operational environment. The ability to connect the dismounted Soldier to networked vehicles on-the-move at the battalion level and above to higher headquarters provides an enormous advantage to the warfighting effort," said Under Secretary of the Army Dr. Joseph Westphal, who observed portions of the exercise from Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md.
"The BCT Integration exercise showed that moving more combat-relevant information faster, further and more efficiently across the force will greatly enhance our Soldiers' ability to prevail in current and future conflicts," Westphal continued.
The exercise - designed to help validate the concept of the objective network planned for 2017 -- used satellite links to connect units and extended line-of-sight radio connections through use of an aerial tier which placed Rifleman Radios on aircraft such as UH-60 Black Hawks, AH-64 Apaches and Shadow UAS'. With the aerial tier, units did not have to place a relay team on the top of a mountain ridge or reposition a command post to ensure communication between ground units over extended distances.
"We are building an Army that is a versatile mix of tailorable and networked organizations; the network is critical to this Army and I am encouraged by the significant progress we have made in developing it," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who also observed the exercise at Aberdeen.
The idea was to connect multiple echelons and be able to move information from the dismounted soldier on the tactical edge up to the platoon and company level and all the way up to higher headquarters, said Col. Michael Williamson, deputy program executive officer, Networks, PEO Integration.
"This is designed not just to highlight technology but to identify the gaps that we need to fill as we mature the network through 2017. This will help us shape how we bring networking capability to the field," said Williamson.
The exercise, which is a key step within the larger developmental trajectory of the Army's battlefield network, was aimed at informing the developmental cycle. It involved less than 100 Soldiers and engineers at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and placed Soldiers and technologies in a series of tactical and operational vignettes designed to stress and evaluate the network's multi-node terrestrial layer and broader satellite connectivity.
The exercise was aimed at connecting network nodes to one another through one seamless battlefield network wherein Soldiers, commanders and sensors can share voice, video, data and images across the force in real time.
"This is about the ability to move data and imagery down to the point where it is needed in a timely manner," said Williamson.
A terrestrial network of sensors sent voice, images and data through Joint Tactical Radio Systems, or JTRS software programmable radios using high bandwidth waveforms such as Solder Radio Waveform, or SRW and Wideband Networking Waveform, or WNW. The information sent and received by the terrestrial layer was connected to Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, a satellite network able to send information over long distances.
Vehicles outfitted with Network Integration Kits, or NIKs, served as key network hubs connecting the terrestrial and satellite layers of the network to one another. The NIKs consist of an Integrated Computer System, JTRS Ground Mobile Radio and Blue Force Tracker display screen.
By connecting the echelons to one another -- dismounted Soldiers carrying either a JTRS Rifleman Radio or JTRS Handheld Manpack Small radio -- were able to instantly share information across the squad, platoon, company and battalion levels and, if needed, all the way up to commanders at higher headquarters or command posts.
"What allows this [network connectivity] to integrate is the fact that we have stable hardware and stable software," said Maj. Gen. John Bartley, program executive officer Integration. "This is about platoons that are isolated reaching back for their support such as MEDEVAC, food, water, logistics, ammunition and re-supply. How do you enable those folks so that they have assured communications moving forward'"
Sending voice, video and images via the Soldier Radio Waveform, or SRW, sensors such as Unattended Ground Sensors, Small Unmanned Ground Robots and Class I UAS systems instantaneously shared information across the force. In addition, the NIKs showed an ability to view and share the sensor information in real time on Blue Force Tracking display screens in vehicles on-the-move -- and WIN-T, then beamed the images over longer distances.
The data was shown on a Command Post of the Future display screen -- a battle command application which organizes and displays a host of relevant battlefield information.
The exercise was planned as merely an initial step in the broader development of the Army's network. The plan is to evaluate data from the exercise to identify key gaps in capability which can be addressed in the future.
Army Test and Evaluation Command assigned a 32-person team with 21 data collectors and observers to the exercise; they plan to provide an executive summary of their findings in about a month.
"We will continue to learn from this type of exercise. This is not an isolated event, and our success here provides tremendous momentum moving forward. We are going to continue this. The Army Test and Evaluation Command has been a key contributor to this process," said Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. "This is a real Army team effort."