ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 29, 2016) -- For military operations, getting information quickly and analyzing it in real time is critical. Each minute counts as Soldiers wait for their orders. Using radios, associated waveforms and applications that serve as a "mid-tier" in the tactical network, Soldiers at the company level can talk and chat, collaborate and share reports and send data to battalion and brigade, linking the Lower Tactical Internet with the Upper Tactical Internet.

The Army plans to assess the capabilities of the mid-tier at Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 16.2, which runs from May 2-14. Held at Fort Bliss, Texas, NIEs enable the Army to evaluate integrated network systems through realistic operational scenarios. To enable mid-tier network connectivity, Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division will use Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radio (MNVR) systems as they perform Combined Arms Maneuver missions during NIE 16.2, providing valuable feedback that will help the Army enhance its tactical information network.

"The NIE will give the Army an indication of how the overall network baseline is operating with all the systems in place, including the Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radio," said Col. James P. Ross, project manager for Tactical Radios. "The assessment will also help determine how many radios are needed at the mid-tier."

By utilizing advanced waveforms and the MNVR radio, the mid-tier links lower-echelon digital radios such as the Rifleman and Manpack to the upper tier of the tactical network, provided by Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). WIN-T is the tactical network backbone that other networked communication systems and mission command applications connect to, both at stationary command posts and on-the-move in combat vehicles.

One of the key features of the mid-tier is its ability to provide terrestrial, ground-level connectivity when satellite communications are restricted or non-existent. Using two high bandwidth waveforms -- the Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) and Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) -- each radio acts as a node in a mobile network, allowing information to hop from one MNVR to another until it reaches its destination. From the user's perspective, the flow of data is seamless.

"A Soldier doesn't see how his message is routed, he only knows that his range of communications is extended, all the way up to battalion and brigade," said Eric Goodman, product manager for MNVR. "The radio finds the best route between a sender and receiver and routes and retransmits the information until it gets to the receiver."

Retransmission is accomplished using the WNW, which provides a line-of-sight capability that allows information to be re-routed when foliage, terrain, distance or a lack of satellite communications (SATCOM) adversely impacts communications. As the number of network nodes increase, the network thickens, creating more connectivity options and extending the range of communications. Additionally, the increased bandwidth of the WNW -- more than ten times as much as the SRW -- enables more data to be exchanged.

To determine the effectiveness of the mid-tier network and the MNVR, the assessment will establish several operational scenarios -- one scenario that has the full complement of MNVR and other data radios; another scenario with a limited number of MNVR radios; and a third scenario with no MNVR radios.

The assessment will also include three phases -- with Blue Force Tracking (BFT), without BFT, and without both WIN-T SATCOM and BFT. BFT is the satellite-based network that enables critical mission command applications, such as the Joint Battle Command -- Platform (JBC-P) friendly force tracking and messaging capability. Together, the phases within the operational scenarios will demonstrate the performance and utility of the terrestrial mid-tier network during denied, degraded and full satellite capability.

To support the mid-tier assessment, an enterprise Over-the-Air Management (eOTAM) demonstration of the MNVR will be conducted using the WNW waveform with the Joint Enterprise Network Manager (JENM) V3.3, an updated version of the JENM 1.2 version first evaluated at NIE 15.2.

With eOTAM, Soldiers not only have the ability to see what is happening across the network, they can make changes in real time. For example, if a radio has been compromised, it can be zeroized, eliminating the information with a few key strokes.

"JENM is the connective tissue for the mid and lower tier networks," said Maj. Nathan Rozea, assistant product manager for JENM. "It provides warfighters the ability to design, plan and manage numerous software-defined radios with a single manager while providing network operations capability beyond situational awareness."

Since JENM is interoperable with numerous tactical radio systems, it significantly reduces the time it takes for units to plan and load their radio networks. A key mission at NIE 16.2 is to assess upgrading the current JENM 1.2 version with the updated 3.3 version for program of record radios, including SRW, SINCGARS and SATCOM. Upon a successful materiel release, JENM will field version 3.3 as part of the Army's Network Capability Set 17.

The Army is also using the mid-tier assessment at NIE 16.2 to determine the right Basis of Issue (BOI), or how many radios are needed to optimize the tactical network and effectively provide the data needed to accomplish the mission. Similar to previous NIEs where the Army assessed its radio capability mix at the lower and upper network tiers as those capabilities matured out of the development process, the operational assessment at NIE 16.2 will help determine the BOI for radios at the mid-tier and how they should be used throughout the Brigade Combat Team.

"As we continue to add more capability to the network, we need to have an understanding of how it is working at every tier," said Douglas Wiltsie, executive director of the Army's System of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate, which helps oversee the NIE process. "Getting operational feedback from commanders and Soldiers at NIE allows the Army to measure the pieces and parts of the network as well as its overall effectiveness."