ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (March 8, 2012) -- While the Army's newest generation of its tactical communications network backbone undergoes its operational test this spring, an upgraded version of its earlier counterpart will also participate in the test to ensure seamless connectivity and interoperability.

The combination of Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as WIN-T, Increment 2, which represents the next generation of on-the-move tactical communications, and Increment 1b, which will refresh the at-the-halt network that is currently used in theater, will be put to the test in realistic operational scenarios to gauge how it transmits and delivers essential information across the force. Because the Army will deliver these upgraded capabilities to deployed units on a staggered schedule, there will be "hybrid" network architectures on the battlefield that must be fully integrated.

"Every increment of the tactical network has its place in the force," said Col. Edward Swanson, project manager for WIN-T. "The key to success is to ensure the current and future increments can interoperate and deliver the critical data on the battlefield, whether it's the location of friendly forces, or a call for fire."

The WIN-T Increment 2 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, or IOT&E, will be held in conjunction with the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 12.2 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in May. As part of the test, the 1st Sustainment Brigade in Fort Riley, Kan., will utilize Increment 1b for connectivity into the Increment 2 network to demonstrate and test the interoperability between the two versions. In preparation for the event, four weeks of WIN-T Increment 1b New Equipment Training, known as NET, began in early February for the 1st Sustainment Brigade.

Two weeks of NET Tactical Hub Node training is also scheduled for early March for the 101st Airborne Division, at Fort Campbell, Ky., which will serve as the division headquarters element for the IOT&E.

WIN-T Increment 2 is a major enhancement to the tactical communications backbone and a critical piece of Capability Set 13 -- the first integrated group of network technologies out of the NIE process that will be fielded to up to eight brigade combat teams starting in fiscal year 2013. The semi-annual NIEs leverage a full brigade combat team to assess new network capabilities in a realistic operational environment.

WIN-T Increments 1 and 2 have already successfully completed a number of other interoperability tests, both at the Joint Interoperability Test Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and at the Central Technical Support Facility at Fort Hood, Texas, which conducts ongoing Army Interoperability Certifications, said Lt. Col. Robert Collins, product manager for WIN-T Increments 2 and 3.

Increments 1 and 2 were also integrated during the NIE 12.1 in October-November 2011, which gave the Army a unique opportunity to evaluate WIN-T Increment 2 in an operational environment and obtain initial Soldier feedback six months before its formal IOT&E.

"It was a useful exercise and probably one of the unique times that we will equip a single brigade with both WIN-T Increment 1 and Increment 2," Collins said. "They were able to interoperate relatively well in this construct."

Helping to ensure the interoperability of the different increments and network components of WIN-T is the Communications Systems Design Center, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., which contains both WIN-T Increment 1 and Increment 2 technology to test operational requirements and interoperability within the network. Currently, it is conducting integration and pre-testing for WIN-T Increment 1 and Increment 2 interoperability for the upcoming IOT&E.

Similar to a home Internet connection, WIN-T Increment 1 establishes a network backbone that provides the full range of data, voice and video communications at battalion level and above, with Soldiers having only to pull over to the side of the road to communicate. WIN-T Increment 2 introduces additional capabilities including an initial on-the-move communications network that reaches down to the company echelon for the first time.

To date, WIN-T Increment 1 equipment has been fielded to roughly 200 units, or 96 percent of the units identified to receive Increment 1 equipment. But it is heading toward a big milestone in mid-spring when the Increment 1 fieldings will be 100 percent complete, providing for the first time a WIN-T Increment 1-equipped force across the entire Army.

In roughly the same timeframe, the WIN-T Increment 1a upgrades will also be completed, establishing a common baseline across the force. Army units originally fielded with the earliest version of the Army's network, the Joint Network Node that began fielding in 2004, are being upgraded to this common baseline. Increment 1a provides newer technology for increased capability, a longer equipment life cycle and more efficient technology refreshments.

Increment 1a units can communicate directly with one another with minimum lag and optimum results. However, if needed they can also operate with Increment 2 units. An Increment 1a unit can "talk" to an Increment 2 unit, but instead of using a direct link, it needs to take two "hops" instead of just one direct transmission. The signal is first sent from the Increment 1a location to a hub node, either to a Regional Hub Node or to a division headquarters Tactical Hub Node, and the node then sends it to the Increment 2 location.

The upcoming WIN-T Increment 1b upgrade provides increased interoperability with Increment 2 by taking advantage of the Network Centric Waveform, or NCW, through use of an NCW modem for satellite transmissions. The NCW is a more capable waveform and allows for increased efficiency of the existing bandwidth on satellites. WIN-T Increment 1b will add the Increment 2 NCW modem to all of its Satellite Transportable Terminals, acting as a bridge between Increment 1 and Increment 2.

Both of the two current modems will be retained in Increment 1b systems, but the addition of the NCW modem provides direct transmission between Increment 1 and Increment 2 nodes, said Shannon Jones, Operations and Special Projects chief for PdM WIN-T Increment 1.

To further increase interoperability, WIN-T Increment 1b will incorporate a "colorless core" security enclave, which will also be utilized by Increment 2. The colorless core increases capability by encrypting all data, both classified and unclassified, as it is transported over satellites and line-of-sight links, enabling Soldiers to send information across the battlefield more securely and efficiently than ever before.

WIN-T Increment 1b and Increment 2 also share the same baseline set of Network Operations tools, although Increment 2 NetOps have additional capabilities. NetOps facilitate the planning, initialization, monitoring, management and response of the network.

Beginning in late summer, the Army will start to upgrade all WIN-T Increment 1a units to Increment 1b, with a projected completion date expected in fiscal year 2016. Due to the amount of time it will take to field Increment 1b across the force, over the next several years there will be some hybrid network architectures on the battlefield, Jones said.

"Potentially you could have Increments 1a, 1b and 2 all fighting in the same battlespace," Jones said. "We need to ensure that everything is interoperable and that all networks are healed at the hub node at a minimum."

Going forward, Increment 1b will be fielded to all of the units that will not be receiving Increment 2. Proportionally one third of the Army's systems will be fielded with Increment 2, while the remaining two thirds will remain with Increment 1b. WIN-T Increment 2 will be fielded to division headquarters and brigade combat teams, known as BCTs, at the brigade and below level where the on-the-move capability is critical. All other units that are not BCTs will retain Increment 1b equipment, which operates at-the-halt, Jones said.

"A lot of the interoperability comes down to how you configure things," Jones said. "We have the right hardware in place. It's just a matter of making sure we configure things correctly to account for all of the differences out there, and not just with WIN-T capabilities, but with all other communications systems that participate in the tactical network."