McGREGOR BASE CAMP, N.M. -- Smaller, lighter communications gear more easily moved from one battlefield location to another by sling-loaded CH-47 helicopter was tested here during the Network Integration Evaluation 17.2 July 11 -- 30.

If fielded, this gear would increase the speed and efficiency of Soldier operations in the field.

The Soldier-led NIE 17.2 exercise, which is the test bed for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, involved over 2,000 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The light brigade is integrating the rapidly progressing Army battlefield communications network, testing its functions and air transportability.

"Air transportability translates to mission success," said Lt. Col. Richard E. Michael, senior test officer for WIN-T Increment 2 at the U.S. Army Operational Test Command's Mission Command Test Directorate.

Michael explained how the larger Tactical Communications Node (TCN) and Network Operations and Security Center (NOSC) are already fielded in heavy versions on five-ton Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV), which are big and heavy 8-wheeled vehicles -- difficult to drive through small towns, unable to be sling-loaded by helicopter, and needing some disassembly for C-17 air transport.

He said the lighter WIN-T Increment 2 TCN-Lite and NOSC-Lite versions mount to a Humvee, which can be easily sling-loaded by helicopter for rapid mobility when a unit jumps locations on the battlefield.

"Light combat brigades need the ability to transport everything they own via helicopter, so they can perform fast insertion, and fast extraction," said Michael. "When they need to, they have to move and have their mission go now."

Operational testing of new equipment always involves real Soldiers, fighting against a real and capable opposing force.

"The battleground should never be the testing ground," said Michael. "We have to prove the reliability, suitability and effectiveness of every system we test -- including this backbone of communications -- before it gets into the hands of Soldiers.

"WIN-T Increment 2 is not supposed to create a burden to them for mission execution, so the operational test puts them in an operationally realistic environment," he continued.

"Our military leaders at the highest levels are discussing this very piece of equipment that the 101st is out here testing," he said. "And the 101st has done a superb job."

To that end, Army leaders need to see data that either supports or does not support systems under test. The data comes in many forms, like Soldier interviews on what works and what does not; direct observation of Soldiers working with any new system; and instrumented data that is reduced to the "ones and zeros" digits needed to prepare a test report.

One test unit Soldier -- a network operations transmission NCO for 12 years with three deployments to Afghanistan under his belt -- said he was interviewed by generals and other distinguished visitors during NIE 17.2.

"A good amount of them have asked me what I wanted to change," said Staff Sgt. Shaun M. Lavigne of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

"I felt like they took what I said to heart. If changes are made, this will be a fantastic system for Soldiers that didn't get the chance to test it, but will get it in a few generations and will be able to use it."

Lavigne said his NIE 17.2 experience was eye-opening.

"I wasn't prepared for the NIE testing. I'm used to field environments," he said, "but not the amount of tasks that we had to complete to make sure this equipment was tested.

"We had to do certain tasks every day to make sure the new equipment was tested correctly," he continued. "Not just day-to-day operations. We had to make sure it was stressed out more than it would normally be."

During NIE, Lavigne's equipment was air-lifted by a CH-47 helicopter.

"The equipment -- other than it being smaller and taking up less space -- there's not a lot of difference with the setup and tear down," he explained. "The procedures are basically the same, but the equipment is a lot more maneuverable than the previous equipment, and we didn't have to worry about trying to find a big enough spot in order to set it up again, so it made it faster to get our site set up."

The communications NCO also said being in the New Mexico desert didn't affect him, and he was glad to be part of an operational test.

"The Army is keeping up with the communications we need to have in order to win the fight," he said. "That's what I see here -- we're trying to find new ways of having constant communication in order to communicate across the battlefield, and that's the way we need to go."