ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The Army's new inflatable satellite terminal may look like a giant beach ball, but this unique versatile capability will soon be providing robust network communications and mission command to early entry and forward operations via the Army's tactical communications network backbone, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T).

The Army has been conducting multiple risk reduction exercises for both the jumpable lite and air-droppable heavy variants of this capability -- known as Transportable Tactical Command Communication, or T2C2 -- ahead of the operational test currently scheduled for early calendar year 2017.

Both versions of T2C2 are inflatable, meaning they can provide a larger dish size with increased capability and bandwidth efficiency, in a smaller transport package.

"T2C2 directly supports the Army's Operating Concept, which calls for greater unit agility and uninterrupted mission command at every stage of Army operations," said Lt. Col. Jenny Tam, product manager for WIN-T Satellite Communications (SATCOM), which manages T2C2 for the Army. "T2C2 is easy-to-deploy and provides high-bandwidth network connectivity for early entry operations all the way through mature operations at the tactical edge of the battlefield."

During Joint Forcible Entry missions, before boots ever hit the ground, early entry units such as the Global Response Force, utilize the Army's Enroute Mission Command (EMC) capabilities while in-flight, to obtain the situational awareness they need to parachute into the fight. Once the airfield is seized, T2C2 Lite can be rapidly set up to provide continuity of mission command during the initial phases of operation. Later in the mission when follow-on forces bring in larger network assets, commanders can extend the battle space using T2C2 Heavy to support company-size forward operating bases and special team size elements that need high-bandwidth network capability.

The Army's tailorable suite of network communications equipment enables Soldiers to bring their command post with them, at every stage of operations, no matter where the battle requires them to go.

"T2C2 delivers operational flexibility and speed of maneuver to commanders," Tam said. "They can use this system to send smaller elements forward, leaving the larger network operating systems secure in the rear, at the main command post or even all the way back at home station."

The upcoming T2C2 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) will support a full rate production decision, currently expected in late fiscal year 2017. A successful decision will enable the Army to begin fielding the capability. As part of the risk reduction efforts for the operational test, the Army used its Limited Rate Initial Production (LRIP) assets to successfully conduct a T2C2 developmental test (DT) from mid-October to early November, at APG. Soldiers from 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), 7th Infantry Division supported the event along with multiple Army Organizations including Program Executive Office, Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Electronic Proving Ground, the Army Test and Evaluation Command and industry.

To replicate various operational scenarios and to test different T2C2 capabilities during the DT, Soldiers conducted over-the-air tests between T2C2 and on-site WIN-T network systems and APG integration facilities, as well as with the Battle Lab at Fort Gordon, Ga., which simulates a WIN-T Regional Hub Node for testing and training exercises.

Further T2C2 risk reduction events include live, over-the-air testing in late November to mid-December.

The Soldiers who supported the DT were a typical subset of the general purpose users T2C2 is designed to support. After just two weeks of new equipment training they were able to rapidly set up, acquire the satellite and start communicating with the system.

"T2C2 is easy to operate, quick to set up and take down, and easy to maneuver from place to place," said Spc. Jacob Goff, 296th Brigade Support Battalion, 1-2 SBCT, who supported the DT. "It will definitely provide a lot more agility over what we have now."

T2C2 is an Acquisition Category III program of record that was established in May 2014 to meet immediate fielding requirements for an Army satellite communications (SATCOM) terminal that can be jumped with Airborne units, and/or deployed via commercial aircraft, and also support forward company command posts. It provides unclassified, classified, or coalition network connectivity that extends mission command.

"T2C2 enables commanders to conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, provide fires and general command and control, with a very light weight, small volume package that can fit into a couple of soft side cases if needed, compared to other SATCOM systems that weighs thousands of pounds that provide the same capability," said Maj. Jonathan Lipscomb, assistant product manager for WIN-T SATCOM.

Soldiers in remote locations can leverage T2C2 to utilize mission command systems such as Command Post of the Future (CPOF), Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P), Distribute Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A), or communications systems such as whiteboard, chat, video, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOiP) calls.

Additionally, T2C2 takes advantage of both commercial and military satellites to further increase operational flexibility, and military satellites also increase throughput and reduce the Army's reliance on expensive commercial satellite time. The unique inflatable satellite antenna can withstand extreme weather conditions, air drops and even bullets.

"The system can be used by any type of unit regardless if it is an engineering, infantry, or cavalry unit, and anyone can set it up, regardless of their MOS in the Army," said Pfc. Bennett Livingston, 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1-2 SBCT. "It is impressive what this small piece of technology can do."

Until T2C2 is fielded, upgraded versions of Secure Internet Protocol Router Network/Non-secure Internet Protocol Router (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point (SNAP) satellite terminals and the even smaller carry-on luggage-sized Global Rapid Response Information Packages (GRRIPs) are serving as the bridging capability for the T2C2 Heavy and Lite respectively.

"T2C2 facilitates the fusion of maneuver, fires, intelligence, and sustainment information at the front edge of the battlefield or in remote locations in lightweight, highly transportable configurations," said James Sawall, PM WIN-T's T2C2 Project Lead. "This unique solution fulfills Army requirements and will provide commanders the communication capacity, flexibility, and maneuverability they need to be successful in today's complex missions."