FORT STEWART, Georgia (October 21, 2019) -- The Army recently equipped the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division with modular, more expeditionary and capable at-the-halt tactical network prototypes.
The pilot effort, known as the 5th Generation Technical Insertion (5th Gen TI), is part of the Army's Tactical Network Transport At The Halt (TNT ATH) Modernization in Service (MIS) efforts, which are helping to establish more capable and unified network transport throughout the service. The unit will use the systems during training exercises and provide feedback to inform design, functionality and basis of issue decisions on the eventual equipment refresh of the legacy at-the-halt systems in use across the force.
The new network enhancements significantly reduce size, weight, power and setup time for increased mobility. They are also easier to operate and maintain, and provide a more than 200 percent increase in computing power. These benefits are derived from new commercial-off-the-shelf hardware, software and virtualization technologies.
"It's all about taking hardware and making it software; that means less physical equipment and more virtual machines, more software-based infrastructure," said Maj. Tomas Allen, communications officer (S-6) for 1st ABCT, 3rd ID. "These improvements are expected to provide a more expeditionary upper tactical internet, which enhances the movement and maneuver of elements and organizations on the ground. "
The 5th Gen TI equipment package includes modernized Joint Network Nodes (JNNs) found at brigade echelons, Command Post Nodes (CPNs) found at battalion and lower echelons, and user access cases and software-based virtual server stacks.
"The significantly increased computing power provided by these new systems enables more Soldiers to conduct mission command and exchange more data, faster and at the same time, without lag in the network," said Cpt. Ryan Nehus, assistant product manager for Mission Network, at Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network. "The technology increases network efficiency, so we can accomplish more with the same amount of bandwidth."
PM Tactical Network, assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), completed equipping and training the unit with these capabilities in late September, at Fort Stewart. The unit will employ and evaluate the prototype equipment during multiple training exercises through November 2019, at Fort Stewart, and then during its training rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, in January 2020. PM Tactical Network plans to begin the technical insertion in late fiscal year 2020, which will refresh units with obsolete at-the-halt network equipment.
"The 5th Gen Technical Insertion implements a standards-based architecture with virtualization technologies that provide space for application expansion, which enables us to easily integrate new capabilities going forward," Nehus said. "So not only are we improving and refreshing current at-the-halt network transport equipment that is nearing end of life, we are also taking steps and laying the groundwork for future network modernization efforts."
The advanced virtualization technologies enabled the PM to host new Network Operations tools, which previously needed their own hardware, on the JNN server utilizing new Network Operations Management System (NOMS) software. As part of the pilot, the unit will also provide feedback to support final decisions on the NOMS capability, which simplifies how the network is managed, monitored and secured. The NOMS capability will be leveraged as part of PM Tactical Network's wider Unified NetOps (UNO) program.
The new modular equipment will be deployed in transit cases with tow handles and wheels, versus permanent shelter integration, increasing maneuverability and operational flexibility. PM Tactical Network also reduced system power requirements enabling the use of vehicle power for short-term at-the-quick-halt operations. Soldiers can simply pull over to the side of the road during convoys or relocating the command posts and rapidly power up their CPNs using vehicle power and a cable, versus having to set up a separate generator.
"These new systems will significantly improve tactical operations," said Pfc. BJ Labrone Jones, information technology specialist for the 1st ABCT, 3rd ID. "On the battlefield, nine times out of 10 we have to improvise our plan and we need to move, and move quickly. If we can get the network up in minutes [versus hours], it enables us to move that much faster. Being able to power the systems off of the back of one of our new Joint Light Tactical Vehicles [and other tactical vehicles] is perfect. Now we're able to move and set up right where we are and provide that needed network connectivity."
As part of the Army's TNT-MIS efforts, the unit will also pilot a new more agile and supportable version of the legacy Satellite Transportable Terminal, or STT, which the PM expects to field to the unit early next year. The STT works together with the JNN and CPN to provide network transport. To maximize efficiencies, this potential STT Modified Work Order solution will repurpose the metal frames from the legacy STTs. the prototype STT baseband equipment will also be transit case-based, versus permanently integrated onto the terminal as it is in the legacy systems. This operationally flexible solution enables Soldiers to either operate the equipment from the STT outside of the command post or move the transit cases inside and operate the system inside alongside the rest of the unit.
In 2004, the 3rd ID was the first unit to receive what was then cutting edge at-the-halt network equipment fielded to replace outdated Mobile Subscriber Equipment, which could not keep up with the pace of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fast forward 15 years, the 3rd ID is now piloting the equipment refresh, which will be the second major refresh of the originally fielded equipment. The 1st ABCT, 3rd ID is already providing input on the functionality, training and operational use of the prototype equipment.
"Early user interaction uncovers real-world capability gaps and enables users to provide critical information to the PM so it can make adjustments and improvements before the systems are officially fielded to units," Allen said. "These pilot efforts help build those relationships between industry, the PM and the unit, and that is huge. It is helping to provide the network capability we need in the heat of the battle."
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The U.S. Army Project Manager Tactical Network is assigned to Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, which develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.