CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. (Feb. 5, 2019) -- From Eastern Europe to across the United States, paratroopers with 1-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 82nd Airborne Division (Airborne) are assessing a new concept that is transforming the Army's tactical network.
Known as the Integrated Tactical Network (ITN), the new approach provides smaller, lighter, faster and more flexible communications systems with multiple connectivity options that are available primarily at the battalion and below level, down to the dismounted Soldier.
For the 1-508 PIR, it is facilitating mission command, situational awareness and air-to-ground communication throughout their operational training exercises.
"The ITN enhances tasks we have always had to do, such as getting situational awareness and communicating across our formations and higher headquarters, to make sure all of the assets are in place and all conditions are set for what we need to execute," said Capt. Matthew Risenmay, higher headquarters company commander for the 1-508 PIR.
By initially focusing on battalion and below, ITN efforts address the Army's understanding that it cannot field a one-size-fits-all network to every formation type. It aligns with the Army's tactical network modernization strategy, which will result in a network environment that is secure and unified, yet diverse enough to enable lethal missions across echelons.
The diversity is critical, and evident, as the ITN incorporates the Army's current tactical network environment (applications, devices, gateways and network transport) with commercial off-the-shelf components and transport capabilities to enable communications in contested and congested environments, or while experiencing any type of denied, intermittent and limited bandwidth situation.
Current ITN components are comprised of Leader Radios with advanced networking waveforms, gateways, Link-16 radios, small aperture satellite terminals, servers, applications and associated ancillary devices. These components work together, but are not over reliant, on any single network. This flexibility allows the Army to keep pace with technological advances -- critical to address the emerging threats from peer and near-peer adversaries.
The 1-508 PIR is incrementally pushing ITN's capabilities at each training event to meet its mission needs, this time in the Hosier state during a live fires exercise that requires continuous communications and situational awareness from the forward observers to the tactical operations center (TOC) commander.
"This is our sixth major battalion exercise where we employed the ITN network," said Maj. John Intile, executive officer for the 1-508 PIR. "We have built on what we deployed with lessons learned to enhance the software and hardware. We then test [the capability] many times to the point of breaking it; not physically, but by surpassing its capability during the training exercises."
The ITN assessments conducted during the 1-508 PIR's exercises are part of a developmental operations (DevOps) process, which is a proven industry practice that places developers side-by-side with Soldiers and commanders in operational units. This incremental development process enables the Army to evaluate potential technology concepts and solutions earlier and more frequently, collect feedback in real time and generate new requirements as needed.
"In contrast to other Army programs, where somebody that we're not even interacting with decides what we need and pushes it down, the ability to work closely with the developers of the software and hardware has been great," Risenmay said. "If you don't have contact with the people that are developing it, you run into problems and you have to deal with the problems for a long time."
A key differentiator to the ITN from the Army's current tactical network design is that we are identifying data and information that does not need to be classified as SECRET, which opens up the opportunity to transmit it securely over commercial networks. We are calling this "Secure But Unclassified." It allows us to simplify training, set up and employment of the network.
"Dealing with classified information includes a lot of red tape and just makes things a bit more difficult to operate in," Risenmay said. "It gets extremely inconvenient when you know that what you're dealing with is unclassified, but it has to be pushed over the classified network. It's just adding an unnecessary burden."
For the paratroopers on the edge, this higher bandwidth, more robust, agile and reliable network is increasing their communications and reducing equipment weight for more expeditionary movement. According to 1-508 forward observers, the ITN kit reduced their load from approximately 20 extra pounds down to five pounds to increase their freedom of movement on the battlefield.
Their ITN kit contains the AN/PRC 148 2-channel Leader radios, which feature TrellisWare TSM commercial and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) waveforms. Two channels allow the platoon leader to talk to its command in one ear and platoon on the other, freeing up the radio telephone operator for other tasks.
"Instead of carrying two radios, which is what I've done throughout my career, I can carry one," Risenmay said. "The reduced weight and wires makes life easier as you are out and about in the field."
The Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK), which is an unclassified version of the Nett Warrior hand-held situational device, is another lightweight ITN component. Sgt. 1st Class Arbie Ignatius Melendrez is the 1-508 PIR battalion fire support non-commissioned officer. He is responsible for integrating and coordinating all fires support within the battalion, and stated that the ATAK is benefitting all of the company forward observers and fire support officer.
"Using the ITN, they are able to maintain and coordinate information reporting and knowing where everyone is in the battlefield in real time," he said. "They utilize information to coordinate fire support at the company level and integrate those fires to engage targets in the field. With use of the ITN I have been able to communicate with less equipment and further than I have in my 13-year career."
In addition to its home base at Fort Bragg, the 1-508 provided feedback on the ITN at the Joint Readiness Tactical Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, AP Hill, Virginia, Sabre Strike in Latvia and Lithuania and the Network Integration Evaluation in Fort Bliss, Texas.
Risenmay took part in the JRTC exercise, during which he said that the ITN, using 4G, provided continuous communications, even when they lost SINCGARS.
"This network was the only thing that was working and gave us situational awareness across the entire brigade for several hours until they could obtain other forms of communications," he said.
For the TOC battle captain, ITN is expediting situational awareness reporting to the commander.
"I compile information that comes in from our subordinate units and give it back to our leadership to help them battle track what's going on in the field, " said 2nd Lt. Nicolas George, battle captain and chief of operations. "We use the TrellisWare TSM, tactical satellite and ATAK chat function to communicate with the companies."
The 1-508 PIR heads back home to Fort Bragg for their next ITN assessment in March, where it will continue partnering with the Army to further refine ITN requirements. These assessments will lead into initial ITN fieldings to Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs) starting in FY2021, with capability set fieldings continuing on a two-year basis to additional IBCTs and Armored and Stryker BCTS.
Intile says the DevOps process has made it very natural for his NCO's to provide feedback, and not just to say they don't like something. They want to know if their ideas can help the Army continue to make the ITN even better.
"Many times the answer is, 'I think we can do that if it's necessary,'" Intile said. "We are still very much in the development phase of ITN, but I would deploy with it now."