SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (August 20, 2015) -- Just like most American homes are shedding cables in favor of wireless technologies, the Army too is in the process of introducing Wi-Fi and 4G LTE to its command posts to improve the agility of its forces.
As part of the effort, the Army successfully demonstrated a National Security Agency (NSA) -accredited unclassified and classified Command Post (CP) Wi-Fi solution with a brigade command post recently, supported by Soldiers from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (ID), at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
"Network access is absolutely critical to expeditionary operations," said Lt. Col. Joe Pishock, 25th ID G6 (communications officer). "Expeditionary communications [capabilities] that connect everyone to the network allow for the best and most rapid transition of forces into diverse environments."
Based in Hawaii, the 25th ID covers the entire Pacific area of responsibility and units are often restricted by the amount of equipment they can transport via ship or commercial air. Sometimes they have to establish headquarters and tactical operations centers (TOCs) in hardscape buildings and even hotel rooms, as well as traditional tents, Pishock said.
"The flexibility offered by going wireless reduces the equipment string while simultaneously increasing our ability to adapt to any location," Pishock said.
Wireless command posts not only shed cumbersome cabling, but network set up and tear down times could be cut significantly, increasing unit agility and reducing interruption of advanced situational awareness.
The Army's Command Post (CP) Wi-Fi demo in Hawaii was a risk reduction exercise to prepare for Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 16.1 this fall, where the service plans to demonstrate both unclassified and classified CP Wi-Fi capability with a full brigade main command post. The Army successfully demonstrated "unclassified" CP Wi-Fi with a battalion-sized element during NIE 15.2 at Fort Bliss, Texas in May.
"Unplugging the command post increases freedom of maneuver, to better fight the fight, or aid in disaster relief situations," said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 1, which manages the Army's CP Wi-Fi and 4G LTE capabilities. "Fewer cables enables speed of maneuver which allows Soldiers to remain fully engaged in the mission longer. This is a game changer!"
Without wireless capability, setting up a network in a brigade command post takes hours and requires 17 boxes of 1000 feet CAT 5 cable that weigh a total of 255 pounds. The cables have to be cut, laid out, configured and plugged in. Often a special protective flooring has to be laid to protect the cabling. By going wireless, network set up and tear down time may be reduced by hours. Additionally, units can turn on their Wi-Fi 'hotspot' and instead of their network coming up last following command post set up, now it comes up first, significantly reducing network downtime for commanders and staff.
"Wi-Fi enables the Army's desire to be more expeditionary," said Andre Wiley, WIN-T Increment 1 project lead for Wi-Fi and 4G LTE. "It also provides more operational flexibility for the commander since he is no longer held hostage to set up and tear down times of equipment. He can move his command post when he needs to move it."
CP Wi-Fi reduces strategic lift, Soldier burden and also cuts down on troubleshooting time, since one of the most common network problems often stems from wiring issues. Additionally, Wi-Fi provides flexibility in how the command post is configured.
"As a signal officer with 20 years of service, I have never seen a TOC established the same way twice," Pishock said. "Not only does this save the labor of the communicators, but it allows commanders to tailor their mission command nodes to suit their personality."
People are sometimes confused between CP Wi-Fi and 4G LTE, but the difference is simple. CP Wi-Fi covers a limited footprint and is used inside the 'skin' of the tent, while 4G LTE is used with smartphones to extend coverage to a larger area, like a base, Henderson said.
The Army took advantage of the secure Wi-Fi demonstration in Hawaii to test 4G LTE capability with Nett Warrior, a handheld smartphone-like device usually used in combination with software-defined Rifleman Radios. Using the 4G LTE network instead of radio networks for transport provides higher bandwidth to support the exchange of larger files like video or real-time maps.
CP Wireless can be applied to U.S. and coalition battlefield operations, homeland defense, disaster relief mission and humanitarian aid. The Wi-Fi capability was already used during support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa. Once fielded with CP Wireless, when the National Guard rolls in to an incident site with its new Disaster Incident Response Emergency Communications Terminal (DIRECT) system, it can immediately provide 4G LTE/Wi-Fi capability to first responders and non-governmental agencies as part of its commercial disaster support package.
"The average American takes Wi-Fi and 4G for granted these days, but on the battlefield or in disaster relief efforts, these secure capabilities will actually improve the speed and situational awareness of operations, potentially saving lives," Henderson said. "Staying continually connected is at the core of information dominance and represents the future of how we will fight and win."