ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The Army completed major upgrades to the Regional Hub Node (RHN) in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, the last of the five worldwide RHNs to receive the upgrade. The effort significantly improves operational flexibility and sets the stage for new early entry satellite communications capability and network transport convergence efforts.

The fixed RHNs are the largest satellite transport nodes in the Army's tactical communications network, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), enabling the exchange of robust network communication in, out and within theater. In line with the Army's Operating Concept, which supports more regionally aligned and adaptable forces, RHNs enable the Army and Marines to deploy smaller units forward at a moment's notice, arming them with reliable network communications reach-back whenever and wherever needed.

The completion of the CENTCOM RHN upgrades is a major milestone for Army network modernization and marks the last phase of a multi-faceted, four year effort to bring the RHNs up to program of record design, so now all five of the RHNs have the same baseline capabilities, explained Col. Greg Coile, project manager (PM) for WIN-T, assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

"Now the RHNs are better postured to support the network communications of a globally engaged expeditionary force, from home station to the edge of the tactical battlefield," Coile said.

While the upgrades were being installed, PM WIN-T worked closely with the RHN operational unit to maintain critical communications throughout theater. Attention to detail was critical during this phase to ensure current operations were continually supported, Coile said.

The new RHN upgrades included the integration of additional satellite modems and a 256-port Intermediate Frequency (IF) Matrix Switch, one of the largest ever used in the DOD. A switch connects devices together on a network, and in this case, it connects the modems to the RHN's antennae to enable Soldiers to transmit information up to the satellite.

"Not only do these upgrades lay the foundation for future network modernization initiatives, but they greatly increase current capability, operational flexibility and the sheer number of DOD users the RHNs can support," said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager for WIN-T Increment 1, which manages the RHNs for the Army. "The improvements greatly enhance readiness and maximize the deployability of our forces."

In the original RHN design, the switch only contained 32 ports to which Soldiers had to physically plug-in modems. In comparison, the new "super" matrix switch enables "electronic" connections to a whopping 256 ports for significantly more capability and the ability to support future expansion efforts.

"We are no longer confined to the limitations of a physical patch panel hard wired to each antenna; instead we can now design missions based on requirements instead of capacity limitations, and we are better positioned to support future network modernization efforts," said Joe Vano, WIN-T Increment 1 Core Group lead.

One of the benefits of the "super" switch is that it enables the Army to cleanly connect to other DOD satellite capabilities, such as co-located DOD Teleport sites, for greater operational flexibility. For example, if equipment failure occurs at an RHN, operators can easily restore high-precedence missions by exporting that information exchange onto another system's antenna. The RHNs can also be connected to the Army's Deployable Ku-band Earth Terminals (DKETs) to enable network hub services.

"We have exponentially expanded warfighting capability by no longer limiting users to the specific satellite dishes of each RHN," Vano said. "Now, when we need to support critical operations, users can connected to other dishes; they have more options and capabilities to support complex missions."

The installation of the matrix switch and the additional satellite modems provides the RHNs with increased capacity and greater versatility to units, while positioning the RHN for future upgrades, such as those scheduled for fiscal year (FY) 2017. These near-term enhancements include the addition of special small form factor modems that are needed to support the Army's new early entry Transportable Tactical Command Communications (T2C2) capability. The jumpable/air-droppable T2C2 satellite terminals will provide early entry forces with access to the WIN-T network for situational awareness and mission command capabilities even in the most austere locations.

The recent RHN upgrades also enable the introduction of military X band at the RHNs, which will directly impact multiple theaters of operations, enabling them to fully exploit Military Satellite Communications assets using both X and Ka bands. This will increase operational flexibility and further reduce reliance on expensive and limited commercial satellite time.

Additionally, the recent RHN upgrades support the Army's Network Transport Convergence efforts, which aim to collapse disparate intelligence, medical and logistics networks onto the WIN-T network. The RHNs are now able to accommodate the significantly increased customer base that will be incurred when these other networks are eventually folded into the WIN-T backbone.

"This increased capacity and diversity in RHN capabilities will greatly enhance the combatant command's ability to plan networks, converge networks and refine the network so that Signaleers can enable combatant commanders to dominate the battlefield," Henderson said. "Continued incremental improvements in network capability and operational flexibility are critical to the future force and will help us remain ahead of the enemy."