Army leaders outline plans to upgrade tactical communications network

By Claire Schwerin, U.S. ArmyFebruary 24, 2012

Army leaders outline plans to upgrade tactical communications network
A 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division Soldier uses the new chat feature of the Joint Capabilities Release of Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking during NIE 12.1 in November 2011. Joint Capabilities Release Chat works like an ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2012) -- The Army is preparing to field up to eight brigade combat teams with an advanced, integrated tactical communications network beginning early next year, senior leaders said during the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Winter Symposium and Exhibition here this week.

The service is now synchronizing the production, fielding and training for Capability Set 13, which is composed of vehicles, network components, and associated equipment and software. These technologies will for the first time deliver an integrated voice and data capability throughout the brigade combat team formation down to the tactical edge.

"It's not the individual products that we're delivering -- we're putting together an integrated capability set for the brigade," said Col. Dan Hughes, director of the Army's System of Systems Integration Directorate. "This synchronized effort means that deploying units will receive integrated equipment and comprehensive training, so once in theater they can use the network to the maximum operational effect."

Capability Set 13 has taken shape through the Network Integration Evaluations, or NIEs, a series of semi-annual field exercises designed to quickly integrate and mature the Army's tactical communications network. The connectivity, architecture and components of the capability set will be validated and finalized at the NIE 12.2, which takes place in May at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Fort Bliss, Texas, involving 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division executing realistic operational scenarios.

The centerpiece of Capability Set 13 is the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as WIN-T, Increment 2, a major upgrade to the tactical communications backbone that will enable mission command on-the-move and extend satellite communications to the company level. Integration and configuration of WIN-T Increment 2 equipment on combat vehicles is now underway at Army facilities in preparation for production and synchronized fielding, Hughes said. The formal operational test for WIN-T Increment 2 will take place in conjunction with NIE 12.2.

During presentations this week, Hughes and other Army acquisition officials stressed that the NIEs and Agile Process have accelerated the pace of network modernization by leveraging industry innovation to keep pace with technological advances. The Army is now taking several steps to ensure small businesses are able to participate in the NIEs, including ways to evaluate prototype technologies in small quantities and to minimize field support cost, Hughes said.

Small businesses with less mature capabilities also have opportunities for technology insertion through the Army research and development community, said Marilyn Freeman, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Research and Technology.

"We really want small business innovation to be part of this," Hughes said.

The Army is also working to formalize the precise mechanisms through which contracts can emerge from the NIE process. Earlier this week, in its first procurement action resulting from the NIEs and Agile Process, the Army issued a "sources sought" notice for a single-channel, vehicle-mounted radio. The radios, known as Soldier Radio Waveform, or SRW, Applique, will act as a conduit for voice and data between the dismounted Soldier, his unit and higher headquarters, increasing situational awareness and reducing fratricide.

This procurement, planned in time for Capability Set 13, illustrates how the NIEs and the Agile Process allow the Army and industry to work together to quickly fulfill network hardware and software capability gaps.

Synchronized fielding of capability sets every two years also will allow the Army to buy the right amount and type of gear for the brigades that need it first, then incrementally modernize it -- instead of spending resources on technology that may be out of date by the time it is needed, leaders said.

Heidi Shyu, acting assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, known as ASA (ALT), described the NIEs and Agile Process as a "pioneering effort that reflects adaptive thinking across the Army" at a time when the service must find fiscal efficiencies in today's more constrained budget environment.

"By bringing diverse equipment together for testing at Fort Bliss, the Army will have an unprecedented opportunity to assess equipment interoperability and address integration challenges much earlier," Shyu said. "The warfighter feedback will be helpful to industry in developing capabilities and will help inform the Army's requirements and Requests For Proposals, or RFPs. Moreover, the NIE provides an opportunity to work collaboratively with the requirements and testing communities early in the acquisition process."

That collaboration is necessary because the Army is using the NIEs to examine not only systems' technical merit, but also their impacts on doctrine, training, requirements, force structure and other key areas. Brigades fielded with Capability Set 13 through the ARFORGEN process will also receive the tactics, techniques and procedures, known as TTPs, necessary to leverage the new gear to its full potential.

"It is a combined, very large-scale effort, and we are moving forward," Hughes said.

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