By Amy Walker, PEO C3T Public AffairsOctober 8, 2015
FORT BLISS, Texas (Oct. 8, 2015) -- During Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 16.1, the Army demonstrated technologies such as secure Wi-Fi to help make command posts more expeditionary, so commanders can out maneuver and outfox increasingly capable enemies.
By going wireless, command post set up and tear down times are reduced by hours, less cable and protective flooring have to be transported from location to location, but most importantly, units can leverage the full extent of their network mission command and communications capabilities much faster.
"Why is wireless so important? Because the speed in which the tactical operations center [TOC] comes up is absolutely critical," said Col. Charles J. Masaracchia, commander for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, or 2/1 AD, the main operational unit for the NIEs.
"It used to be that after the command post infrastructure went up, we would all kind of sit here waiting for our network systems to come up," Masaracchia said. "With Command Post Wi-Fi, we are getting to the point that systems are coming up as fast as the command post infrastructure is going up. It is a game changer, truthfully."
During NIE 16.1, the Army demonstrated its secure National Security Agency, or NSA, -accredited unclassified and classified Wi-Fi solution with a full brigade command post. The Army also successfully conducted secure command post Wi-Fi demos at NIE 15.2 in May and at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, in June, as risk reduction exercises to prepare for NIE 16.1.
NIEs are Soldier-led events held on Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., which help modernize, develop and refine the broad scope of the Army's tactical communications network. NIE 16.1, which concluded Oct. 8, featured more than 9,000 Soldiers, 300 platforms and 20 command posts.
By demonstrating the new command post Wi-Fi capability, Soldiers will be able to connect their mission command and communication systems to the WIN-T network, wirelessly.
"Personal Wi-Fi systems in our homes reduce unsightly and annoying cables and untether us from our workstations so we can be more productive," said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager for WIN-T Increment 1, which manages this Wi-Fi solution for the Army. "But on the battlefield, Wi-Fi takes on a far greater role - it increases the speed of maneuver, reduces lots of cables and saves Soldiers time. The more agile our force, the more important it will be to spend time on the mission and not packing and unpacking the cables."
During operations when the mission dictates that the brigade or battalion TOC has to be moved to a new location, units retain their situational awareness and operational tempo by sending forward a Tactical Command Post, or TAC, which replicates the critical mission command and communication systems found in the much larger TOC.
So even though the main TOC may be moving, the unit remains connected to the network in the TAC. But once the TOC reaches its new location, Wi-Fi is helping the brigade reestablish the robust network systems found in the TOC hours faster than before, freeing up the TAC to move out and support the mission in other ways.
"The ability of this brigade TOC to pick up and move, and reestablish that battle handover with my TAC is vital," Masaracchia said.
Without wireless capability, setting up the network in the brigade command post takes hours and requires 17 boxes of 1,000-foot CAT 5 cable that weighs 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.
"There are miles of cable that support a bridge command post that have to be run from the server stacks to the user access cases to the network systems," said Cpt. Jason Patterson, information systems management officer for 2/1 AD. "With Command Post Wi-Fi, our client computer systems come up quicker and it allows the network operations personnel to bring up the overall network infrastructure much faster as well."
The utilization of Command Post Wi-Fi capabilities are not just for U.S. and coalition battlefield operations, but they can also be used for homeland defense, disaster relief missions and humanitarian aid. The Army's Wi-Fi capability was already used to support the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.
Once fielded with these capabilities, when the National Guard rolls in to an incident site with its new Disaster Incident Response Emergency Communications Terminal, or DIRECT, system, it will immediately be able to provide wireless capability to first responders and non-governmental agencies as part of its commercial disaster support package.
Whether in the homeland or overseas, the Army faces a complex world that demands forces to conduct an expeditionary maneuver to win against increasingly capable enemies or to successfully support unexpected disasters. Command Post Wi-Fi increases speed of maneuver while reducing Soldier burden and cost. The Army is using exercises like the NIEs to get these and other expeditionary capabilities into the field as soon as possible.
"What Wi-Fi is really going to do is give us time," said Maj. Jeffrey Fulton, communications officer (S6) for the 2/1 AD. "It will enable the commander and his staff to have this facility up and fully operational much quicker. And it is working quite well."