REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command is working to develop a new platform to help troops in the field have a tactical edge while communicating.The Winch Aerostat Small Platform, or WASP, is a mobile, tactical-sized aerostat capable of carrying a variety of payloads in support of military operations.An aerostat is a tethered craft that remains aloft primarily through the use of buoyant lighter than air gases, which impart lift to a vehicle with nearly the same overall density as air. Aerostats are so named because they use "aerostatic" lift, which is a buoyant force that does not require movement through the surrounding air mass.Common applications include network communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. WASP leverages well-understood aerostat technology to elevate network payloads to an advantaged height to enable persistent network connectivity while reducing risk to units conducting retransmission missions. It is controlled via a launcher operated by Soldiers possessing common soldier skills."The system was chosen to participate in the Network Integration Evaluation 14.1 as a 'System Under Evaluation,'" said Jeff Faunce, deputy, Experiments Division, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Battle Lab. "WASP was employed in NIE 14.1 by four signal Soldiers supporting live maneuver elements. The primary mission of WASP was to enable network extension by elevating radio payloads to altitudes up to 1,000 feet. WASP operated from fixed sites, executed jump operations, and participated as a live operational asset that could be taken out by opposing forces, or OPFOR, engagement."WASP was designed and built by Lighter Than Air Systems, Jacksonville, Fla., and is designed to be operated from fixed sites and remote locations."SMDC has done initial coordination with the product manager - Meteorological and Target Identification Capabilities, or PM-MaTIC," Faunce said. "We have also coordinated with both the Signal Center of Excellence and Aviation Center of Excellence regarding participation in the NIE -- particularly related to extending the network from elevated and aerial platforms."Faunce said the organizations leading the NIE are known as the Triad. The Triad consists of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command - Brigade Modernization Command; assistant secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology) - System of Systems Integration Directorate; and the Army Test and Evaluation Command."WASP has been a product of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab," Faunce said. "Personnel from the SMDC Technical Center also assisted in preparing, training, and supporting the system at NIE 14.1."SMDC personnel conducted New Equipment Training for two weeks in August followed by support to the field communications exercise and pilot tests for two additional weeks in October," he added. "The NIE execution phases were conducted Nov. 4-15.Faunce talked about WASP and SMDC's role in its development, and why it is important to the command and ultimately Soldiers in the field."WASP was developed in cooperation with Lighter Than Air Systems who took design input from SMDC to fabricate a system conducive to supporting Army ground maneuver at the tactical level," Faunce said. "WASP's importance rests in its ability to extend the range of Army radios by elevating them to heights eight to 10 times that of the existing Army tower capability. This enables increased operational dispersion and supports 'connected maneuver' -- the flexibility to operate at extended distances yet remain connected to the network."Unlike other aerostats, WASP was operated by Soldiers directly in support of tactical maneuver," he added. "Existing capabilities are not only much larger but are also much less mobile and operated by civilian contractors. Adding a tactical-sized aerostat to the Army inventory potentially represents an inexpensive solution to extend the Army network to the tactical edge without the need for additional Soldiers or the expense and logistics associated with contractors on the battlefield."