ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD (April 11, 2016) -- When purchasing a new car, most people do not think of the individual components. They give even less thought to the engineering efforts required between each. As long as the vehicle is comfortable, reliable and performs well, they are ready to make a deal.

Yet these interoperable subsystems working in unison are the vehicle. And just as important, but often overlooked, are the hoses, wires, fasteners and sensors that allow the individual systems to function as one cohesive unit.

Much like the workings of a car, the Army's tactical network operates as a holistic, integrated weapon system, bringing together different capabilities such as digital radios, mission command applications, satellite-equipped vehicles and smartphone-like end user devices. Working in the background are the capabilities that link these systems to one another, allowing seamless interoperability for the Soldier. These data products include Internet Protocol addressing, telephony management, network configuration, and the Initialization Tool Suite (ITS), which is comprised of three components: the Warfighter Initialization Tool (WIT) Manager (M), Server (S), and Platform (P).

When mission command and network hardware is turned on for the first time, these capabilities enable them to communicate with each other. Data products essentially bring the Army's tactical network "online" in the same way a commercial computer goes through a similar process the first time it is turned on.

"Data products are the glue that hold the larger system together. Without them, the systems can't communicate," said John Anglin, deputy product lead for Tactical Network Initialization and Configuration (TNIC). Part of the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), PdL TNIC supports the rapid delivery of relevant network initialization products and solutions to the Warfighter, while ensuring interoperability of Mission Command and Army C4ISR systems within the current force network. "The services we provide enable the overall network, and the Army's system of systems fielding concept, to function," Anglin continued.

In addition to providing data products to all operational units, PdL TNIC also supports larger efforts by providing engineering for individual network needs. One of the best venues to witness this collaboration is during the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE). These Soldier-led evaluations take the latest Network Capability Set architecture and combine it with the newest emerging technologies, creating a consolidated network. Since this architecture is comprised of many different capabilities, the efforts to ensure interoperability are tackled largely by the behind-the-scenes enablers.

The NIE's validation exercise, or VALEX, which serves as the final pre-operational check and inspection before the official start of NIE, displays how these TNIC efforts come together. First, data products must be created and sent digitally to the Brigade communications manager, or S6, for distribution. Each system is then loaded with a standard set of data products, followed by unique subsets that are custom built according to requirements given by programs, such as Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (PM WIN-T), which fields the Army's tactical communications network backbone. The delivery and initialization of these products enables WIN-T and other major systems to exchange critical information with each other across the battlefield.

"Our Systems of Systems engineers are on the ground [at NIE] from day one of a data product delivery, all the way to the end of the event," said Anglin. "We're tying each application to the rest of the network so that big systems like WIN-T are able to host and support them in order to achieve full integration."

As these programs bring new capabilities to the table, the TNIC office continues to evolve ITS capabilities in order to ensure that systems function as advertised and interoperate to provide the total Army network. An additional component of the ITS, the Warfighter Initialization Tool-Joint Platform (WIT-JP), is scheduled to field in mid-late Fiscal Year 17. WIT-JP allows a user to add new data products to the JBC-P platform that could not be previously loaded, therefore enabling the Soldier to instantiate the network as they see fit.

"Just as it is expected that the car slows down when the brake pedal is pushed or that the fuel gauge tells when the car is in need of gas, the Soldier expects the faster and more powerful networks boasting the latest and greatest technologies to work seamlessly within their systems," Anglin said. "Although the behind-the-scenes efforts are not often recognized, they are a vital part of providing the Soldier a 'smooth ride.'"