ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. Oct. 6, 2011 -- Inside a high-level command post, Soldiers and leaders are surrounded by information. Computer screens line the tabletops and tent walls, broadcasting the latest troop movements, intelligence data and calls for fire.
But when maneuvering around the battlefield, most of that information has traditionally not been available.
That's about to change as the Army prepares to deploy a secure wireless network that can support vehicles traveling on the move. This major upgrade to the tactical network backbone will extend satellite communications to the company level, allowing Soldiers to communicate seamlessly through voice, data, images and video -- even in complex terrain.
"It keeps our troops in the field more involved and more informed," said Spc. Jerry Hayden, a member of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, who has trained on the new technology. "It expands the network, probably times ten, because now we can do a lot more communications while we're on the move."
Soldiers will get an initial look at this high-capacity network, known as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical ,or WIN-T, Increment 2, in November during the Network Integration Evaluation, known as NIE, 12.1 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Fort Bliss, Texas. At the subsequent NIE 12.2 next spring, the equipment will undergo a formal operational test before it is approved for deployment.
The NIEs are semi-annual events, involving 3,800 Soldiers of the 2/1 AD, designed to rapidly advance the Army's tactical network. The events allow the Army to determine which networked technologies are most valuable to Soldiers by measuring their performance in a realistic operational environment.
Following the formal test in April, WIN-T Increment 2 is expected to be fielded to eight brigade combat teams in fiscal year 2013, said Lt. Col. Robert Collins, product manager for WIN-T Increment 2.
"We are eager to receive Soldier feedback as we get closer to this major milestone for the next-generation network," Collins said. "Communications on-the-move at the company level will be a breakthrough for delivering critical and timely information to our troops."
For an informal evaluation at the November exercise, the Army is installing WIN-T Increment 2 equipment on more than a dozen 2/1 AD vehicles, some of which will also contain an initial set of mission command software applications. Hosted on a single computing system, the applications will provide mobile company Soldiers with the real-time information that typically would only be available inside a tactical operations center.
These capabilities include Command Post of the Future, or CPOF, a collaborative system allowing users to visualize the common operating picture and smoothly plan the battle; Tactical Ground Reporting, or TIGR, which empowers Soldiers to collect, share and analyze patrol data in a central database; the Effects Management Tool, which provides access to critical fire support information; and Microsoft Office Environment, which enables interaction with email and documents from the command post. These applications will run alongside the next-generation software for Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below, known as FBCB2/Blue Force Tracking, which is the only major mission command application available on-the-move in theater today.
"The network is going from an at-the-halt world to a moving world, and the Army is bringing the applications with it to take advantage of that moving network," said Jennifer Zbozny, chief engineer for the Army's Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications -- Tactical (PEO C3T). "With this technology, the Army will answer feedback from theater that small units require network connectivity for the ability to plan, collaborate and execute mission command while on the move."
Currently, the first increment of WIN-T provides at-the-halt or at-the-quick-halt access to voice, data, images and video to approximately 90 percent of the active Army at the battalion and above. The second increment builds upon that foundation, weaving together terrestrial and satellite communications so units in austere environments -- such as mountainous regions -- can still connect and communicate while on the move.
When Hayden deployed to Iraq in 2007, he relied on voice radios for on-the-move communications. During complicated maneuvers or in complex terrain, they didn't always come through.
"We had radios just drop out, and we couldn't get ahold of people," he said. "With this (WIN-T), we've got multiple ways of getting ahold of a convoy, or route clearance, or whoever's out there we need to get in touch with."
WIN-T Increment 2 also extends network connections down to selected company vehicles. Network access at the company level will allow small units to be more dynamic and decisive in their actions, while still maintaining contact with higher headquarters, Hayden said.
Incorporating feedback from the November event, the Army will continue to develop and refine the mission command applications provided to different echelons and vehicle types with WIN-T Increment 2, Zbozny said. As the on-the-move capability increases, PEO C3T will integrate the applications onto common computer hardware, "so that we're bringing one computing system to the platform and not three or six or ten," she said.
"That one computing system will run everything that platform will have," Zbozny said, "and we will continue to adapt this technology to meet the Army's priorities."