ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (April 2, 2012) -- For Soldiers in the field, the world just got a little smaller with the completion of the last of five planned Regional Hub Nodes, which now allows reach-back to the Army's global information network from anywhere on the planet.
"With the completion of the fifth Regional Hub Node, we now have a full circle of worldwide coverage," said Maj. Rhea Pritchett, former Regional Hub Node lead for Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or PM WIN-T. "The RHN gives the Soldier in the field immediate access to secure and non-secure internet and voice communications, and it allows them to do their job anywhere on the globe."
The Army has been working to position Regional Hub Nodes, or RHNs, in five separate strategic regions, providing tactical users with secure, reliable connectivity worldwide. This endeavor came to fruition with the completion and transfer in March of the Continental United States, known as CONUS, West RHN to the 9th Army Signal Command, or Network Enterprise Technology Command, or NETCOM. The other four RHNs are located in Central Command, European Command, Pacific Command, known as PACOM and CONUS East.
RHNs provide satellite, voice and data services to support forces as they flow into a theater of operations, including domestic disaster relief, and enable deployed units to connect to Department of Defense networks. The RHNs operate "in sanctuary," or out of the fight zone, and were designed to provide division, brigade combat teams and below early access to the Global Information Grid, the infrastructure and services that move information through the global network.
NETCOM is the Army's global network enterprise service provider and from an operations and maintenance perspective, it is the overall owner and mission facilitator on a global scale of all five RHNs.
PM WIN-T, assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, known as PEO C3T, was responsible for the management and installation of the CONUS West RHN, as well as the more recently built RHNs in PACOM and Eastern CONUS. The PM will continue to manage all five RHNs, and as the configuration managers for the entire fleet, "will keep them on the cutting edge of technology," said Joseph Vano, RHN project lead for PM WIN-T.
"The RHNs can facilitate missions anywhere in the world, so when the president says, 'We need to send somebody here,' within an hour of arrival that unit can be up and operating and connected into a regional hub," Vano said. "There isn't any place that we can't see."
Since their areas of operation overlap, every regional hub has the ability to "see" into two theaters of operations. For example, the CONUS West RHN can support both a CONUS and Pacific operation.
"When it comes down to our tactical networks, this all-encompassing view gives the U.S. global tactical communications dominance," Vano said.
The RHNs currently have the Army's WIN-T network and Marine Corps' Support Wide Area Network , known as SWAN, equipped units as part of their authorized customer base, with each RHN able to accommodate up to 56 discreet missions at one time. These missions can be close to home station or in austere environments where communications infrastructure is often non-existent prior to their arrival. Enabling forces to mobilize without having to develop their own transport and network access solutions allows for quicker access times and puts more time towards actual mission accomplishment, Vano said.
"When a brigade goes to a new area of responsibility, they can tap into the RHN for immediate communications until their network is established, after which they can get support from their division assets," Pritchett said. "Now since they are regionally located, wherever you go you potentially have an RHN that will provide you with quick access. It will enhance how we fight."
To enable this regionalized reach-back to the Army's global network, RHNs utilize baseband and satellite communications capabilities. RHNs serve as transport nodes for WIN-T, the Army's tactical communications network backbone, as well as the transport medium for theater-based Network Service Centers, which are the basic building blocks for the Army's global network infrastructure.
"Right now we are an intensely technology-driven organization and the 21st century Army provides greater capabilities to the Soldier," said Elvin Davis, Information Technology specialist with the 7th SC, and action officer for the CONUS West RHN. "With the completion of the last RHN, we are empowering the Soldier to be confident in those systems and in his technology."
The two RHNs in CONUS also allow Soldiers to "train as they fight." When Soldiers train before deployment, they now have the same capabilities that they would have in Afghanistan or in any other theater. So the Soldier becomes comfortable seeing the same type of architectures and consistent operations, Davis said.
"Instead of going to theater and learning as you go, you already have the lessons instilled in you at home before deployment," Davis said. "Soldiers will be better prepared for the battlefield."
RHNs serve as a gateway to quickly connect expeditionary forces and their tactical information technology systems into the enterprise network, giving them access to the network as soon as boots hit the ground. Before the RHNs were in place, it would take Soldiers much longer to establish the circuits and links needed to obtain the most recent information.
With the RHNs, when Soldiers get to theater they can establish their links and immediately begin to draw their satellite and network services from a hub that is already prepositioned and ready to go. Not only can they draw information quickly, but can also tie back into their home stations. So if something changed while they were in transit, as soon as they get to their destination, they can access their most current information, said Vern Combs, 302nd Signal Battalion Satellite Communications project officer.
"Right when they hit the ground they will be able to pull whatever mission plans they need," Combs said. "The key to the fight is good communications and with the RHNs, Soldiers will be able to communicate quicker, through a secure means and be able to start fighting as soon as they get there."