WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M., Nov. 1, 2011 -- The Army's on-the-move, satellite-based communications network is getting its first field tryout with Soldiers this month as the service moves closer to deploying the capability next fall.
The participation of Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, Increment 2 in the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 12.1 will demonstrate the value of conducting mission command while on the move in a realistic operational environment. WIN-T Increment 2 is a major upgrade to the tactical network backbone that will extend satellite communications to the company level, allowing Soldiers to communicate seamlessly through voice, data, images and video -- even in complex terrain that can break line-of-sight radio connections.
"The Army's not static. Our Soldiers have to be on the move, and what WIN-T Increment 2 is going to enable us to do is to have better communications while on the move," said Heidi Shyu, the acting assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, who visited with Soldiers at the NIE site here last week. "It's very important. So we need to demonstrate it, and we need to push it out to the field."
As a Major Defense Acquisition Program, or MDAP, since 2007 and a critical part of the network baseline, WIN-T Increment 2 provides equipment, training, sustainment and field support as part of the program baseline. WIN-T Increment 2's current production contract will support nine maneuver units in Low Rate Initial Production and will be used for one additional year of Full Rate Production once authorization is granted by the Defense Acquisition Executive.
In line with the Army's accelerated, more cost-effective approach to network modernization, WIN-T Increment 2 has been integrated into tactical formations at the current NIE a full six months ahead of its formal operational test.
That allows the Army to obtain and respond to early feedback from Soldiers like Capt. Joseph D. Perry, a company commander within the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) who will evaluate WIN-T Increment 2 and a set of mission command applications hosted on a single computing system inside his vehicle.
"It provides a really unique capability with satellite networking, bringing that down to the company commander level," Perry said. "As I move out of radio communications, I can utilize a Voice over Internet Protocol (phone) to either call the battalion tactical operations center or call to my company command post. At the same time, I can interact with (mission command software) in my vehicle."
Following the formal test next spring at NIE 12.2, WIN-T Increment 2 is expected to be fielded to eight brigade combat teams in fiscal year 2013 as part of the Army's network Capability Set 13.
Bringing WIN-T Increment 2 into the NIEs -- a series of semi-annual field exercises designed to rapidly integrate and mature the Army's tactical network -- also provides a chance to integrate different components of the capability with WIN-T's first increment in an operational setting. That will streamline the process of fielding the upgrade, said Col. Edward Swanson, the Army's project manager for WIN-T.
"This prevents imposing unnecessary burdens on commanders and units," said Swanson, who described the network as "a critical enabler for military operations spanning the full range of the spectrum from peacekeeping to high-end conflict."
Currently, WIN-T Increment 1 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, providing high-bandwidth connectivity that can automatically switch between terrestrial and satellite connections. That "self-healing" ability brings a level of flexibility and resiliency that does not exist today, ensuring that mobile units are constantly connected to the network for more dynamic operations.
"We don't want our commanders tethered to their tactical operations centers," said Col. John Morrison, director of the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet-Battle Command Directorate. "We want them to be able to do mission command and lead their formations on the move, not just at the halt."
Up to now, the WIN-T network has extended from corps down to the battalion echelon. The Increment 2 Soldier Network Extension, or SNE, will extend the network down to the company level. A key capability of the SNE is its ability to interface with lower echelon radio nets, such as the Wideband Networking Waveform, WNW, Soldier Radio Waveform, known as SRW, Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, or SINCGARS. Since the SNE operates on the move, it stays in contact with the lower echelon Soldiers and provides continuous support.
The addition of the SNE allows lower echelon radios to "touch" the WIN-T network backbone, increasing the reach of the Army's entire communications network and dramatically improving communications for the dismounted Soldier.
Other main components of WIN-T Increment 2 include the Tactical Communications Node, or TCN, and the Point of Presence, or POP. TCNs and POPs include the Highband Networking Radio running the Highband Networking Waveform. The HNR increases line-of-sight capacity and is fully integrated with satellite communications systems, in order to prioritize urgent messages like MEDEVAC requests and calls for fire ahead of routine traffic.
Along with the VoIP phone capability, WIN-T Increment 2 also supports mission command software applications such as Command Post of the Future, known as CPOF, installed in certain company vehicles. The goal is to provide mobile Soldiers with the real-time information that typically would only be available inside a tactical operations center.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Philbeck, another 2/1 AD Soldier evaluating WIN-T Increment 2 at NIE 12.1, said those tools would give his company commander more situational awareness when maneuvering around the battlefield.
"It's going to be the same information they're receiving at the tactical operations center," Philbeck said. "In a sense, he can take it all with him."