Army network integration facilities simulate battlefield environment
January 6, 2012
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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Jan. 6, 2012) -- 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.
"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.