By Amy Walker, PEO C3T staff writerNovember 5, 2014
FORT BLISS, Texas (Nov. 5, 2014) -- To increase unit versatility and operational flexibility across the force, the Army is working to bring modernized mission command network capability to all formations and echelons, including Stryker units, which are now receiving the service's mobile tactical communications network backbone -- Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2.
These Stryker units are also receiving upgraded radios and Blue Force Tracking 2, which enables situational awareness of friendly forces and digital command and control down to the platoon and squad levels.
"WIN-T Increment 2 gives me the ability to reach back to the tactical operations center and pull that information forward, so I can conduct mission command on-the-move," said Lt. Col. Ryan Worthan, battalion commander for 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment (4-17), 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division (1/1 AD). "It enables me to lead my forces when they're geographically dispersed."
WIN-T Increment 2 allows Soldiers operating in remote and challenging terrain to maintain voice, video and data communications, with the situational awareness needed to conduct rapid operations across great distances. The 3rd BCT, 2nd Infantry Division was the first Stryker unit fielded with these platforms, finishing new equipment training (NET) in early November at Fort Lewis, Wash. Following suit, 1/1 AD is the second BCT to be fielded with WIN-T Increment 2 integrated onto Stryker vehicles. The unit is currently receiving WIN-T Increment 2 New Equipment Training (NET) at its home base of Fort Bliss, Texas.
Prior to the Stryker integration, WIN-T Increment 2 has mainly been fielded on variants of the Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle fleet for use in Afghanistan. However, several WIN-T Increment 2 elements have also been integrated on High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle platforms to meet mobility requirements for the 82nd Airborne Division. Integrating the system onto Strykers now brings high-speed, high-capacity mobile communications for those units, enabling them to reach further into the fight while staying connected and increasing their effectiveness on the battlefield.
"Thinking back to the counter insurgency environment over the last 12 years, units at the company level have been geographically dispersed on company outposts (COPs) and forward operating bases (FOBs), but now the WIN-T Increment 2 Solider Network Extension (SNE) gives companies reach-back to the battalion [and higher]," said Worthan, who has deployed seven times. "The SNE in the Strykers provides a lot of what those companies needed in COPs and FOBs over the last 12 years that they didn't have."
Worthan and his Stryker battalion (4-17) received WIN-T Increment 2 NET and equipment ahead of the rest of 1/1 AD so they could support the WIN-T Increment 2 Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation 2 (FOT&E2) with a full battalion's worth of networked Stryker vehicles. The operational test, aimed at evaluating the recent upgrades that make the WIN-T Increment 2 system easier to operate and maintain, was held in conjunction with the Army's Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 15.1 in October and early November, at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The 2nd BCT, 1AD is the main designated operational unit for the NIEs.
Soldier feedback from theater, NIEs and user juries helped the Army make the recent improvements to WIN-T Increment 2. Using Soldier feedback obtained at the FOT&E2, PM WIN-T plans to work with the platform project management office to refine and improve the integration of WIN-T components to best support the way the equipment is employed during operations. Further lessons-learned from this test and additional assessments will inform continued network fieldings to Stryker BCTs and other units.
During the operational test, 4-17 used their Strykers with integrated SNE packages to leverage satellite communications capability to help extend lower tactical internet radio networks and keep Soldiers connected. The unit used the SNE's Combat Network Radio (CNR) Gateway to connect disparate radio networks over vast distances and terrain obstructions such as mountains, significantly expanding the operational reach of the network.
It increases situational awareness between our battalion above and battalion below elements, provides us with the common operational picture and it also provides us with a number of different ways to communicate," Quillico said.
Having various forms of communications adds redundancy to the network for improved reliability, Quillico added. "There is an old saying that two is one and one is none," he said.
Additionally, the system's radio cross-banding capability enables different radio networks to talk to each other so everyone can communicate regardless of which radio and waveform they are using.
"Essentially, I am taking an FM network and pushing it digitally through a satellite link to get it forward to a geographically dispersed unit," Worthan said. "As long as I can touch the satellite from both ends, I can then transfer my FM communications to the ground forces, and distances no longer matter."
During the operational test, the SNE packages integrated on both Strykers and MRAPs were also used to retransmit fire and counter fire support information between upper and lower echelons. Forward observers and fire support officers once restricted by the line-of-sight distances of their radios to exchange fires information between maneuver platoons and brigade can now execute critical operations at the edge of the fight.
"Sometimes the Fire Support Specialists are farther away than their radio capability can reach, but WIN-T Increment 2 can extend much further out into the battlefield," said Pfc. Lewis Nodal, 2-3, 1/1 AD, who supports fires missions at the battery level.
During the operational test, 4-17 also utilized the system's flexibility to create their own unique mobile Tactical Command Posts, referred to simply as "TACs," which replicate the critical mission command and communication systems found in units' much larger tactical operations center (TOC) headquarters. The unit used two Stryker vehicles integrated with the WIN-T Increment 2 Point of Presence (PoP), which provides mobile mission command and other advanced communications, and another Stryker equipped with fires support capabilities. They backed up the vehicles in a "Y" formation to form a mobile TAC and set up tables in the center of the formation. The improvised TAC enabled advanced mission command, battlefield monitoring and fires support from remote locations on the battlefield. Other units created a TAC with their PoP and other support vehicles, so when the larger TOC had to be moved to a new location, the unit retained its situational awareness and operational tempo.
"Establishing communications is usually the number one issue when a unit goes out into the field," said Sgt. Michael Trevino, Fires Support Specialist for 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment (2-3),1/1 AD, who trained on WIN-T Increment 2 integrated Strykers during NET. "This new technology makes that less of a problem; it makes you more mission-driven as opposed to driven by troubleshooting."