By Claire Schwerin, U.S. ArmyMay 24, 2012
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (May 24, 2012) -- Stretched across vast distances and punishing terrain, the Army's new tactical communications network showed its promise as a combat enabler during the service's Network Integration Evaluation 12.2, Soldiers and leaders said.
With the 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division conducting a rigorous, intelligence-driven operational scenario against a battalion-sized opposing force, the network allowed them to rapidly pass information across echelons -- from the brigade tactical operations center down to the individual Soldier.
The integrated package of radios, satellite systems, software applications, smartphone-like devices and other network components supported 2/1 AD as the unit spread across the desert and mountains to complete its mission. Facing a hybrid threat comprised of conventional forces, insurgents, criminals and electronic warfare, the brigade executed combined arms maneuver, counterinsurgency and stability operations.
"It was pretty powerful," said Col. Dan Pinnell, commander of 2/1 AD. "I can see (the enemy) faster. I can understand the situation. It just flattened the whole information chain."
While there are still elements of the network that can be improved, Pinnell said, giving the systems a realistic tryout has produced valuable Soldier feedback that the Army can now act on.
"The Soldier's voice is coming out now, finally, directly to senior leaders," he said. "I'm very happy with the quality of feedback the Soldiers are providing."
That feedback and test results from the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 12.2 will validate and finalize Capability Set 13,or CS 13, the first integrated package of tactical communications gear that will be fielded to eight brigade combat teams starting in October. Leveraging lessons-learned from the NIE, the Army is in the final stages of designing how CS 13 equipment will fit onto tactical vehicles, and will soon move to production and synchronized fielding, said Col. Dan Hughes, director of Army System of Systems Integration, known as SoSI.
"How this all works together is the key," Hughes said. "Soldiers in combat should not be given something that's a toy. We will give the Soldiers a kit that works before they go."
That is the purpose of the NIEs, semi-annual field evaluations designed to further integrate and rapidly mature the Army's tactical network at a lower cost. NIE 12.2 -- the third and largest event in the series -- has concluded major operations, and following a "capstone" event with fewer systems, will wrap up on June 8.
NIE 12.2 included three formal operational tests, including for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, Increment 2, a major upgrade to the network backbone that enables mission command on the move and extends satellite communications to the company level. That test incorporated a higher headquarters, the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., to measure the network across echelons and distances. It also required the brigade tactical operations center -- a complex command post containing dozens of network systems -- to "jump" or move three times and reestablish connectivity, a task that 2/1 AD accomplished more quickly each time as the NIE progressed.
More than three dozen other systems received informal evaluations, which will lead to a recommendation for each to field, to continue development and participate in a future NIE, or to stop development.
The Army's feedback will be provided to industry partners within weeks of the conclusion of NIE 12.2, so they can make necessary adjustments and appropriate investments regarding their technologies, Hughes and other leaders said. The reports produced out of NIE not only address technical performance, but also systems' impact on other areas such as doctrine, training and basis of issue -- who in a unit receives the capability and how it will be used.
Capt. Josh Horner, a company commander within 2/1 AD, said his unit's combination of radios running the Soldier Radio Waveform "worked extremely well" to enable communications during battle. He also said the "chat room" function of the Joint Capabilities Release for Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking allowed his unit to collaborate by sending messages and updates while on the move.
Horner said using the systems in a large-scale attack gave them a thorough workout.
"It's been really good for the Soldiers -- an eye-opening experience," he said.
Networking all echelons throughout the brigade empowers Soldiers with the information they need to act quickly and decisively in executing the commander's intent, said Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, commander of the Brigade Modernization Command. The BMC, SoSI and the Army Test and Evaluation Command form a Triad of organizations that execute the NIEs.
"We will fight the network as a weapon system," Dragon said. "This network is deployable."