National Guard Soldier sees technology advance in Army and industry
January 29, 2008
1st Lt. Brian Wilkins has seen the technological advancements of both the Army and industry from both ends of the spectrum.
As a systems engineer with Florida's 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB), Wilkins engineers and plans past, current and future operations.
Outside of the Army, where Wilkins is employed as a software and network engineer, he handles similar duties.
"Many of the Soldiers in the National Guard are network engineers," Wilkins said. "A lot of them do this for Verizon. So a lot of this involves taking that knowledge and applying it to a different area. Instead of putting on a Verizon uniform, now they are putting on an Army uniform, so it's not much different for them. It makes it real easy to find information."
The technology that today's Soldiers expect to use on the battlefield is similar to that of an office, Wilkins said. They want to send internal e-mails across separate Forward Operating Bases and communicate through a Voice Over Internet Protocol-based phone.
"They basically want, in a way, an office in the field because that's how we fight now," he said.
Wilkins has noticed the technological leap the Army has made with the new equipment he receives.
"I feel like we can bring a lot more to the fight," he said. "We're a more relevant unit."
Technologically, the Army's satellite based networks, such as Warfighter Information Network Tactical Increment One, has moved the Army to an even playing field with industry, Wilkins said.
"As a whole, industry is using the same exact stuff," he said. "It's just, we put it into a box and we send it to the field."
Formerly called the Joint Network Node-Network, WIN-T Increment One provides Battalion-level and above Warfighters with the ability to connect to the Army's digitized systems, voice, data and video via satellite Internet connection.
The ESB network is assigned to the Project Manager Tactical Radio Communications Systems Warfighter Communications Solutions Division. It provides line-of-sight (LOS) and beyond line-of-sight communications to Soldiers at higher echelons, while also providing the capability to support lower echelons through cascading of equipment when needed.
In the Army, BLOS refers to the ability to communicate further than the eye can see.
"The ESB network, which now includes the Joint Network Node (JNN), is really a gap filler to provide the Warfighter with the latest technology that is commercially available today," said James Goon, deputy product director of WARCOMS. "By modifying existing legacy shelters, it gives the Warfighter the capability to execute their mission today with a higher throughput of data, voice and video until WIN-T becomes available."
Internet-based communications technology also allows for more modular equipment, where components can be removed and replaced with other peripheral pieces, Wilkins said.
Issues with newer systems can be resolved with a simple phone call. When a problem arises with older systems, Soldiers might need to sift through old documentation before taking steps to resolve it. Locating documentation for systems made in the 1970s is not an easy task, Wilkins said.
For a Soldier, it's important to stay on top of technologies, as some might eventually be fielded to one's unit, he said. Doing so, allows Soldiers to forecast the technologies that they might train on in the future.
The 146th ESB will complete its transition to become an ESB next June and has already supported numerous hurricane relief missions.
To get a jumpstart on training, the unit received a scaled down or "light" version of WIN-T Increment One in February. The set up lets Guard units train on the system before they receive their ESB equipment, he said. It allows Soldiers to obtain experience with the switches and routers they will use in the future prior to obtaining the rest of their equipment. The system is used in virtually every training drill period. It is beneficial for Soldiers who have not been to school in a long period of time or those who require further training, Wilkins said.
The Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications Tactical (PEO C3T) support contractors have provided a great deal of support to the unit during the transition, Wilkins said. Contractors have provided system training and have encouraged Wilkins to call with questions or issues.
WIN-T Increment One is assigned to Project Manager Warfighter Information Network Tactical (PM WIN-T). PM TRCS and PM WIN-T are assigned to the PEO C3T.
WIN-T Increment One officially became a program of record June 5.
The transition to WIN-T has generated excitement in the Army community, Wilkins said.
"We can get away from this antiquated stuff," Wilkins said. "People feel relevant in the world, when they don't feel like they are using stuff that they are never going to deploy with."