FORT BLISS, Texas (October 19, 2015) -- Using a hand-portable communications package, Soldiers, from the Army's 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives, or CBRNE, Command were able to expeditiously exchange critical data and confirm potentially dangerous contaminants during Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 16.1.
The satellite-based Global Rapid Response Information Package, or GRRIP, small enough to fit in the overhead bin of an airplane, enabled reach-back communications to the team's higher headquarters and subject matter experts, or SMEs, in CBRNE departments and agencies.
"Because the GRRIP is a compact piece of equipment, it's easy to carry and mobile," said Lt. Col. Dirk Barber, chief of Nuclear Disablement Team 3, 20th CBRNE Command. "Once on the ground, we can set it up at the scene to push information in a matter of minutes, and when you're saving time, you might be saving someone's life."
The 20th CBRNE Command is working closely with the Army and Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, to identify the requirements for reach-back communication from CBRNE event sites. In support of this effort, Soldiers, from the command, used the Army's GRRIPs to demonstrate early entry capabilities during NIE 16.1, which concluded on Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 8.
The 84th Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or EOD, Battalion served as a CBRNE Battalion Task Force in support of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, for the event.
"The GRRIP extends the communication range on our furthest tactical events and improves operational tempo by enabling us to receive information in a timely manner and to push out assets as far as needed to support the mission," said Sgt. 1st Class Leslie Etheridge, communications officer (S6), for the 84th EOD Battalion, 20th CBRNE.
During NIE 16.1, 20th CBRNE Soldiers used the GRRIP to reach back and exchange information with both their headquarters tactical operations center as well as external government agencies hundreds of miles away. Soldiers wore mission-oriented protective posture gear to protect them from possible contact (though simulated) with dangerous contaminates as they exploited sites, gathered data and passed on their findings.
"Whether we get to the site through air mobility or ground movement, the key is that the GRRIP will enable us to pass information back and forth as to what we find or what we suspect is going on at the site," Barber said. "By doing an analysis and passing on the information upfront, we may be able to prevent a situation from occurring or predict what type of situation we are going into before more Soldiers get there."
The CBRNE Response Teams, or CRT, at NIE 16.1 used the GRRIP to send the forensic information they gathered, such as nuclear spectra data, and photos and video of potential chemical sites, to enable outside experts to rapidly confirm targets and dangers onsite. During one of the mission threads at the exercise, Soldiers used the GRRIP to quickly pass spectra of suspected of highly-enriched uranium from an event site to the battalion tactical command post and Department of Energy in near real time.
In the past, Soldiers had to travel back to their tactical operations centers to use the network communications capabilities needed to pass certain data required for definitive confirmations. The GRRIP saves that travel time, whether hours or even days, and enables Soldiers to relay needed information to and from the event site in just minutes.
"With the GRRIP, the SMEs offsite can look at what we found, help make a determination on what we have, and give us further guidance [as to what we should do next]," said Maj. David Plowman, nuclear physicist for 20th CBRNE Nuclear Disablement Team.
During operations, the user-friendly GRRIP, which is managed by the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program office, provided access to unclassified Non-secure Internet Protocol Router. or NIPR, and classified Secure Internet Protocol Router, or SIPR, networks. Soldiers were able to connect an extra laptop into the system to enable them to work on both NIPR and SIPR simultaneously. They could also use the GRRIP to take and send video of the sites and potential contaminants, or conduct video teleconferences with SMEs.
Besides reaching back to SMEs at other government organizations, CBRNE teams were able to provide situational awareness back to the Army battalion task force headquarters and brigade command posts in the area of operations to enable joint and coalition commanders to make informed decisions on targets that may have strategic implications.
Both military and civilian counterparts get the situational awareness they need to understand what the teams are seeing on the ground and to confirm and immediately act on any information that is gathered. This dual-communication mission helps attack the problem from two different directions at the same time for greater operational efficiency and tempo.
"You never know where you are going to be deployed, but GRRIP will enable us to communicate, to reach out and extend range beyond line of sight no matter where we are to advance our mission," Etheridge said.
Looking forward, Army units will be fielded upgraded reset GRRIPs as bridging solutions until the light version of the Army's more advanced program of record capability, Transportable Tactical Command Communications (T2C2) program, is ready to be fielded. The Army will continue to leverage exercises such as the NIEs to help modernize, develop and refine the broad scope of the Army's tactical communications network and how it is used during tactical operations
"During NIE 16.1, we can help make [operational and equipment] improvements by providing suggestions through TRADOC or through the scientists and engineers out here," Barber said. "As with any new technology, you have to figure out how it best fits into operations and this exercise is an excellent opportunity to do that without risking Soldiers lives."