FORT POLK, La. (July 17, 2013) -- As a U.S. Army platoon in training heads into a quiet mock Afghan village, an improvised explosive device detonates in its path; Soldiers on foot dodge swarms of insurgent gunfire. Because the unit is equipped with new Capability Set 13 network technologies, the location of each Soldier and details of the fight can be sent to commanders throughout the entire brigade, who can quickly send in needed support and put their next move into action.
"[In the past] information on IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in theater was delayed as it got [disseminated throughout the brigade] in detail," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Clark, a squad leader with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), or 3/10, during recent training exercises. "Now, with everyone seeing the same picture at the same time, a battalion or brigade commander and his higher headquarters can make [immediate] assessments."
Real-life scenarios such as the one described above unfold daily at the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center, known as JRTC, at Fort Polk, La., complete with simulated IED explosions and gunfire, replicated Afghan villages and more than 250 role players standing in for the Afghan army, police and civilians. In preparation for its possible deployment, 3/10 recently trained at the JRTC with the Army's new Capability Set 13, or CS 13, capabilities. Its sister unit, 4th BCT, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), or 4/10, finished its CS 13 JRTC rotation in April and is deploying this year.
CS 13 is the first of the Army's fully-integrated network fielding efforts, which include a mix of capabilities that are scalable and tailorable in design to support the changing requirements of current and future missions. CS 13 includes radios, satellite systems, software applications, smartphone-like devices and other network components that provide connectivity from the stationary command post to the commander on-the-move in a tactical vehicle to the dismounted Soldier. Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as WIN-T, Increment 2, often referred to as the Army's Internet, is the mobile tactical communications network backbone that binds the capability sets together, increasing the pace of combat operations and extending the operational distances units can cover.
If and when they are called upon to deploy, the BCTs armed with CS 13 capabilities will serve as Security Forces Advisory and Assist Teams, or SFAATs, working with Afghan National Security Forces, known as the ANSF, to improve their capability and help the Afghans secure their country as coalition forces reduce their presence.
Current JRTC rotations reflect these missions, providing realistic environments and ANSF role players that Army BCTs can interact with to help prepare them for the challenges they could face in theater.
"SFAAT missions involve small teams pushing out to assist their Afghan counterparts, and they might not be going to a U.S. base with tremendous network capability, but now Soldiers can take the network with them -- and that is incredible," said Maj. Graham Wood, brigade communications officer for 3/10. "As we begin to reduce our footprint in Afghanistan, WIN-T Increment 2 [as part of CS 13] gives you that capability to have the network up until the point that you leave theater. There is no gap anymore; you can stay because the network stays with you."
The advantages of CS 13 were apparent during one of 3/10's JRTC mission threads. A U.S. Army platoon was required to assist the ANSF role players in questioning a suspected Afghan insurgent in a small village. After searching the suspect's car, they found explosive materials and a map that led to a replicated weapons cache in the woods outside of the village. The platoon's new CS 13 capabilities enabled the squad leader at the scene to inform the entire brigade of the event so an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team could be called in to safely dismantle the explosives.
To get that critical information from the depths of the woods to the commanders across the brigade, the squad leader simply typed the location and information into his smartphone-like device. His Rifleman Radio sent that signal to his platoon's vehicle, which was equipped with CS 13 capabilities. Since his unit's networked radios retransmit signals, he didn't have to be within range of the vehicle; his radio could just hop through other radios in the area to get the signal back to the vehicle.
Back on the dirt road, the platoon's vehicle housed the satellite-based Joint Capabilities Release, or JCR, which plots and transmits friendly and enemy force locations and other battlefield information throughout the force. The JCR system transmitted the squad leader's report of the IED cache, which reached higher headquarters' tactical operations centers and WIN-T Increment 2-equipped vehicles across the brigade. In a matter of minutes, everyone involved in the operations, both at the TOCs and on-the-move in the networked vehicles, had the complete operational picture.
If needed, the WIN-T network could pass that information all the way back to the United States.
"Information is populated across the world, not just in the brigade, really it's global," Wood said. "Anybody [in the U.S. force] is going to be able to see and communicate with that Soldier once you get that link out of the vehicle."
Since it provides advanced mobile communications down to the lowest echelons for the first time, CS 13 and its future enhancements will change how the Army conducts operations on the battlefield. No longer will Soldiers and their commanders have to return to stationary command posts to report outdated critical events or to get new orders so they can return to the battlefield, now they can get them "on the fly."
"CS 13 is really going to enable a faster pace of warfare and it is certainly going to change how we fight," Wood said. "It is a game changer."