FORT POLK, La. (October 16, 2014) -- During initial entry to a hostile airfield, paratroopers are only equipped with what they can strap to their backs or airdrop from the plane -- relying on the Army's latest radio, handheld and small satellite communication devices for communication.
Once the airfield is secured, giant C-130 and C-17 aircraft scream in to deliver larger equipment so the unit can set up the Army's mobile tactical network communications network backbone, known as Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2. This high capacity satellite and line-of-sight network provides advanced mission command, voice, video and data capability, both at the halt in command tactical operations centers (TOC), and on the move in network-equipped vehicles.
"We start analog, with limited digital systems, and the network builds up over time as we seize, expand and secure a lodgment and can bring in aircraft to provide all of this equipment," said Col. Joseph A. Ryan, commander for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT)/82nd Airborne Division (2/82). "We are always very focused on getting our WIN-T systems up and operational, because they provide us a greater level of shared understanding."
Establishing and fighting with the network in early entry missions was part of 2/82's training at the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La., in September. This advanced training includes real-life mission scenarios complete with simulated explosions and gunfire, mock villages and more than 250 role players guised as foreign army, police and civilians. Adding to the challenge is an opposing force that attacks the unit with armor, chemical, cyber, conventional and unconventional threats.
The JRTC provided the opportunity for the unit to further train on and validate its new Capability Set (CS) 14 communications equipment down to the Soldier level in a complex and challenging combat environment. CS14 is the second integrated network package fielded by the Army that provides advanced situational awareness in a versatile "tool kit" of network capability. During early entry and other dismounted missions, Soldiers utilized CS14 software-defined Rifleman Radios and handheld smartphone-like devices, referred to as Nett Warrior, to navigate and stay in digital contact with their teammates.
"Initial entry is what they can carry," said Lt. Col. Steven Beaumont, Senior Signal Observer/Controller/Trainer for JRTC. "With Nett Warrior, Soldiers can jump in the dark into an austere environment and have a digital map, GPS [Global Positioning System] capability on the ground and point to point communications with their teams. That is pretty impressive."
The 82nd also jumped with the suitcase-sized Global Rapid Response Information Package (GRRIP), a ground satellite capability that leverages commercial satellite technology. GRRIPs provide secure voice as well as data access to Non-secure Internet Protocol Router and Secure Internet Protocol Router (NIPR and SIPR) for up to four users operating in austere and demanding environments who don't have access to the network equipment and infrastructure of established forward operating bases.
As the supply planes flew in, 2/82 built up the network with CS14's WIN-T Increment 2, providing the mobile communications network backbone down to the company level, and the Joint Capabilities Release/Blue Force Tracking 2 capability, enabling situational awareness of friendly forces and digital command and control down to the platoon and squad levels. These two capabilities complement one another across the BCT; even though some echelons may not be connected to the WIN-T network, having both capabilities enables the entire BCT to stay connected and operationally informed.
"Redundancy in anything around here is important because we are always looking for ways to war-game the challenges of the environment, so if something goes down we want to have another node that comes back up," Ryan said. "That is something that we do inherently in everything that we plan."
In light of that challenge, WIN-T Increment 2 provides both satellite and line-of-sight links to provide a redundant, reliable and efficient means of communications. From inside their WIN-T Increment 2-equipped vehicles, Soldiers and commanders can provide and receive real-time situational awareness information across the BCT by utilizing on-board mission command systems, Voice over Internet Protocol phone calls, full feature chat and other collaborative enterprise capabilities. They can exchange critical information and send and receive orders from anywhere on an austere battlefield.
"The commander can go out and deploy his WIN-T Increment 2 Point of Presence (PoP), and even with a lot of trees or buildings, he can still reach out to his command post and pull the same services he would have as if he were sitting back in his TOC," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Calvin Delaware, 2/82 network technician.
The WIN-T Increment 2 PoP above enables advanced communications and mission command on-the-move at the battalion level and above. The PoP's sister capability, the Soldier Network Extension (SNE), provides communication and network extension capabilities down to the company level. The versatility of this equipment was highlighted in Afghanistan, where deployed Soldiers adapted the networked vehicles in unique ways to support their evolving mission requirements. Soldiers from 2/82 said the unit plans to adjust WIN-T Increment 2 capabilities to meet their own unique mission requirements, just as other units from the 10th Mountain (Light Infantry) and 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Divisions have done with the systems in theater.
The Army is also adapting its Capability Sets to meet specific unit needs. Originally, the Army mainly integrated WIN-T Increment 2 onto variants of the Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle fleet for use in Afghanistan, and more recently began fielding the network on Stryker platforms. For units such as 2/82 with airlift transport requirements, several WIN-T Increment 2 elements have also been integrated on the lighter High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle platforms.
"We are a light infantry brigade and we jump out of airplanes," said Maj. Lawrence Barber, communications officer (S6) for 2/82. "An MRAP takes up half of C-17; I'm not even sure if fits in a C-130. They're just way too big for our missions."
As a part of the Global Response Force (GRF), the 2/82 "Falcons" are capable of deploying worldwide on short notice to accomplish any mission that may arise. The GRF, comprised of the 82nd Airborne Division, the XVIII Airborne Corps and Air Force transport, execute early entry operations, conduct combat operations and accomplish a multitude of national objectives worldwide. In 1991 in its role as GRF, the 82nd Airborne was the first force on the front line between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, shortly after Kuwait was invaded by Saddam Hussein's troops. The GRF was also activated for a humanitarian mission during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
Now armed with CS14 capabilities, the 82nd has increased network communications capability to execute these diverse global missions. In order to maintain response readiness and proficiency on CS14, other systems and operations, the unit will continue to train in exercises similar to the JRTC but smaller in scope, Delaware said.
"Following JRTC we are on GRF status for natural disasters or if something happens in the world," Delaware said. "We are that unit to respond."