KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Oct. 17, 2013) -- The Army's new communication suite, Capability Set-13, has been generating a lot of buzz around the military.
In May, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Patriot, became the first unit to integrate the new system into operations during its rotation at Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center before deploying with the system in July.
Since the implementation of CS-13, a lot of focus has been placed on the capabilities it grants to individual Soldiers on the ground. Because of this, the End User Device, a smart phone that serves as the Army's new nucleus for Soldier-to-Soldier communication in the field, has, to many, become the unofficial symbol for the entire system.
However, CS-13 is far more than just what the EUDs can do and arguably nobody knows this better than the Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, deployed to Forward Operating Base Tagab, Kapisa Province, Afghanistan.
"It gives us all kinds of mission command capabilities. That's the most important thing it gives us, especially with our mission here," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Paul Cunningham, commander, 2nd Battalion.
The battalion's mission is to advise and assist the 3rd Brigade, 201st Afghan National Army Corps in Kapisa.
Unlike many other units in Afghanistan that work in close proximity to their Afghan counterparts, 2nd Battalion must make trips that take away from the communication infrastructue they have at their headquarters in Tagab for days on end. That's where CS-13 comes in for them.
The EUDs are not where the unit has gotten the most use out of the system. For them, the Point of Presence trucks, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles outfitted with CS-13 capabilities, is where they get the most out of the suite.
"If we're out doing advising operations, [the POP] gives me and the advisory team the same mission command capabilities that we'd have if we were sitting at FOB Tagab," said Cunningham.
The POP trucks offer a host of communications assets including the ability to connect to military phone lines allowing Soldiers to connect to any phone they'd be able to call from their office.
For the first time, Soldiers can also now check their military email accounts while they're away from their computer, ensuring that no matter how long their mission is, they will still have constant access to electronic communications.
The system allows commanders the ability to continue to command and offer guidance to their subordinates even in the midst of another mission on the opposite side of the province.
"We went on a mission once, we were only supposed to be there for three days but we wound up having to stay for nine," said Cunningham, "and not only was I able to check and respond to emails while we were driving but we were able to keep the same level of staff productivity throughout those nine days because we had all of our systems."
CS-13 is a powerful and versatile suite. Some are concerned however that that versatility, and the time required to become familiar enough with it to integrate it into missions, may cause some units to forego using it.
"If you actually take the time to learn it, it's worth it," said Spc. Dustin Murray, a communications Soldier with 2nd Battalion from Needville, Texas. "Things always come up in the commo world, but once you learn how to fix it, you're good. It works great, it really does."
Murray attended the 13-week familiarization course at Fort Polk. The class offered a complete overview of the system, hands on experience with each of its components, and culminated in a week of practical exercises troubleshooting problems the Soldiers might encounter.
Being part of the first unit to use CS-13 in a combat zone, a big part of 2nd Battalion's implementation of the suite is to diagnose any potential downfalls of the capability set and see what can be improved.
"There's a lot of little shortcomings, but any new system's going to have bugs," said Cunningham. "Our commo guys have figured out workarounds to a lot of the bugs we've encountered that no one even knew existed and wouldn't have known until you get the system out in the field."
Soldier Network Extension trucks, similar to the POPs but offering a slightly milder connectivity advantage, are on a short list of CS-13 aspects some of the Soldiers believe can be improved on.
"The SNE is a good system, it's almost the same system as a POP, but it's just slower than what the POPs offer. It can have as much capability but is just works on a slower program," said Murray.
Throughout the rest of their deployment, 2nd Battalion will continue to monitor the suite and offer suggestions for improvements to make sure the units that follow them are even better off than they are, but CS-13, as it stands, has already offered the battalion a much appreciated edge on the battlefield.
"I think there's lots of little improvements that can be made, as with all technology like this, which I have no doubt will happen; but in my mind it's definitely been value-added to our battalion and it's helped us accomplish our mission," said Cunningham. "I'm a believer in CS-13."