WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (Nov. 14, 2011) -- Ground satellite terminals are being leveraged in the Army's most recent Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, highlighting its objective to ensure that new technologies and network improvements work hand-in-hand with presently fielded systems.
"We have made an enormous investment in current theater-provided equipment, so when we bring in new technology, we want to see that it has open standards and will work with equipment that we have already purchased," said Lt. Col. Gregory Coile, product manager for Satellite Communications, or PdM SATCOM, which is assigned to the Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as PM WIN-T.
Seven WIN-T Increment 1 SIPR/NIPR Access Point, or SNAP, satellite terminals and five WIN-T Increment 2 SNAPs are being used during the three-week NIE 12.1 to help the Army evaluate rapid acquisition solutions, while integrating and maturing its tactical network. NIE 12.1 involves the 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and nearly 1,000 vehicles spread across the austere environment of White Sands Missile Range, N.M., or WSMR.
SNAPs are designed to provide beyond-line-of-sight communications to small units at remote forward operating bases where they are unable to use line-of-sight radios either due to issues with terrain or distance. The terminals are represented at the NIE just as they are used in theater, as theater-provided equipment, or TPE, which is equipment that remains in theater instead of being taken back to a unit's home station following a deployment.
Since the mountains and deserts of WSMR replicate the challenging terrain of Afghanistan, SNAP capabilities and their integration with other systems can be evaluated in a realistic, reliable test environment.
"By integrating and evaluating current and emerging technologies in some of the same harsh conditions found in theater, the NIE allows the Army to make informed decisions on where it wants to go with the network," Coile said.
SNAP is a non-program-of-record commercial off-the-shelf system that provides reliable SATCOM access. Nearly 600 terminals have been fielded to date. In part, the terminals will be employed at the NIE to evaluate the TPE modifications needed to allow the SNAP to work in concert with the second increment of the WIN-T network. A modified baseline will then be established for the SNAPs, so when new technologies that leverage the terminals are introduced, everything works together like a well-oiled machine.
"In NIE 12.1 we are modifying the current TPE baseline SNAPs to work with the WIN-T Increment 2 network to demonstrate that that the rest of the TPE equipment in theater can also be modified to work in the new Increment 2 network as needed," Coile said. "Then we will use that new baseline as benchmark for other technology that comes into the NIE either through sources sought or other programs."
WIN-T Increment 1, which is currently fielded to about 90 percent of the total force, is a communications network that enables the exchange of voice, video, and data throughout the tactical Army. While WIN-T Increment 1 provides satellite communications at-the-quick-halt to the battalion level, Increment 2 will bring the initial on-the-move capability to those at the company level.
"During the present fight, critical intelligence is gathered at higher echelons and disseminated to the company and platoon level," Coile said. "SNAP has empowered these small units with the information that is key to their decision-making process. Though SNAP users can't move and communicate, WIN-T Increment 2 will provide Soldiers at the company with that initial capability so they can share voice and data in a mobile environment."
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.
"One of the purposes of the NIE is to make sure systems are fully interoperable when integrated into the Army's tactical network in CONUS (Continental United States) before deploying into theater; this prevents imposing unnecessary burdens on commanders and units," said Col. Ed Swanson, PM for WIN-T, which is assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T.
PEO C3T is leading the effort to build, integrate and fill the NIE network. During the NIE 12.1, SNAP satellite terminals are also being used to evaluate the Company Command Post communications link from the company up to higher echelons and will be integrated with mission command servers and web-based, voice and video applications. These capabilities include:
• Command Post of the Future, or CPOF, a collaborative system allowing users to visualize the common operating picture and efficiently plan the battle
• Tactical Ground Reporting, known as 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
• The Microsoft Office Environment, which enables interaction with email and documents from the command post
"My TIGR and all of my intelligence and communications systems worked better off of the SNAP," said Capt. Scott DeWitt, who previously served as a company commander with 2/1 AD. "And now with the SNAP I have a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone; so no longer do I have to get on the radio. I can just make a phone call and talk to the people who I need to talk to without fogging up channels. The SNAP worked well."
These terminals are a key communications component for units, providing secure beyond-line-of-sight communications to battalions and below. In line with the Army's goal to extend the network to the furthest tactical edge, SNAP terminals take advantage of commercial equipment to expedite the fielding process and provide access to the tactical and strategic networks for mission command, calls for fire, medevac and information exchange.
"I was deployed in Afghanistan for 15 months, so I know disconnected operations at the company and platoon level," DeWitt said. "During the NIE, the SNAP gave me the ability to do non-line-of-sight, digital communications over a long distance. It gave me good throughput."
Newer technology has enabled engineers to design the terminals to weigh only 300-400 pounds and fit into three transit cases, which can be transported in the back of high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles or helicopters. Their modular design allows for varying dish and antenna sizes to appropriately satisfy mission requirements.
Because they can be packed in transit cases and have low-power requirements, SNAPs are easy to move around the battlefield, providing an expeditionary element to the force. As priorities change and more resources are needed in different locations, they can be quickly deployed and set up for quick network accessibility.
"Every time we broke it down (during the NIE), we put it back together," DeWitt said. "These weren't specialized satellite operators who came out to do it. It was always handled by infantry men."
As the network lead for the NIEs, PEO C3T integrates its own capabilities as well as those from other PEOs and industry to ensure that they function together as an overarching network. The aim is to get capability into the hands of the Soldier much faster than normal acquisition cycles allow.
The NIE process is shortening the development cycle, and units are getting a better product, "especially with the network," DeWitt said. The network is not something that the Army has time to "mess around with," he said.
The normal acquisition process could take upwards of 10 years to get needed capability to the field and by that time needed capability can be obsolete.
"We have to have the systems in place to evaluate the equipment, to make sure that it is secure and operationally it is sound, and then push it out," DeWitt said. "If we are going to play in these waters, we have to move quickly."