ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD (July, 9, 2012) -- Highly specialized military network technology experts, Network Operations warrant officers, played a key role in keeping the network strong as its capabilities were stressed and evaluated during the major operational test of the second generation of the Army's tactical communications network backbone.

"One of the biggest things that we tested during the operational test was the on-the-move capability, which can be monitored in real time," said WO1 Eric Bache, Signal Corps Network Operations, or NetOps, for the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. "We tested the capabilities of the equipment and kept the network as healthy as possible as it moved and constantly adjusted."

The three-week Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as WIN-T, Increment 2 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, or IOT&E, was conducted in May, with the main effort held at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., as part of the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 12.2. Bache's unit, 2/1 AD, served as the main test unit for both the IOT&E and NIE 12.2. To truly stress and test the system, WIN-T Increment 2 nodes were spread across 2,000 miles of the United States and involved more than 4,000 Soldiers and civilians.

Similar to a home Internet connection, WIN-T Increment 1 provides Soldiers with high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to battalion level units at-the-halt. WIN-T Increment 2 is a major upgrade to the Army's tactical communications backbone and provides an on-the-move network that reaches down to the company level for the first time. As an expert in network management for WIN-T Increment 2, Bache monitors, troubleshoots and diagnoses issues within the entire WIN-T Increment 2 network. He is the eyes and ears of the network, and can often detect a problem with equipment or the network itself before the unit even becomes aware of it.

"Units report to us if they have any issues," Bache said. "Nine out of 10 times we can see those issues either at the same time or even before the unit actually sees it."

From a network management perspective, one of the major enhancements provided by WIN-T Increment 2 is an improved common operating picture. Inside a Tactical Operations Center, or TOC, WIN-T Increment 2 NetOps, a suite of integrated network monitoring tools, displays maneuver elements on the battlefield (such as dismounted infantry, fires or aviation) on a large screen for easy monitoring. Not only does it display a system's geographical position, but it also provides information on network strength and how well the particular system is working.

"As the different nodes are moving around the battlefield we can actually see a real-time picture of where they are and make sure they are communicating the way they need to," Bache said. "We can monitor the amount of bandwidth, the different waveforms that they are using and if they are using satellite or line-of-sight radios."

Since the WIN-T Increment 2 network is self-forming and self-healing, it provides a new level of flexibility to support changing mission requirements. Should a component link of the network become inoperable, it will reform to heal itself and continue to provide seamless communications in support of dynamic battlefield operations. It will also allow combat net radio and data networks to be extended beyond-line-of-sight.

By taking advantage of integrated satellite and line-of-sight communications, units in austere environments such as the mountainous regions of Afghanistan can still connect and communicate despite signal blocks caused by complex terrain. Similar topography was found at WSMR and was utilized for the NIE and IOT&E to put network capabilities to the test in a realistic operational environment.

Not only does WIN-T Increment 2 provide this self-forming and self-healing communications network on-the-move, but it brings it down to the company level for the first time. Providing that situational awareness down to the company level is huge benefit for the Soldiers at these lower echelons, Bache said.

"Soldiers in these lower echelons are now able to use systems that provide situational awareness that they would normally not have, such as Command Post of the Future," Bache said. "They have it in the front seat of their vehicle and they are actually able to use it while moving down the road or while getting ready for maneuver to get last-minute updates."

WIN-T Increment 2 is a critical piece of the Army's Capability Set 13 -- the first integrated group of network technologies out of the NIE and Agile Process that will be fielded to brigade combat teams starting in October 2012. With WIN-T Increment 2 in place, the Army will have a robust network backbone that will also enable mission command on-the-move capabilities.

Commanders will no longer be tethered to their command posts in order to receive the common operating picture, enabling them to place themselves at the most critical points on the battlefield while still leveraging all of the mission command capabilities. Combined with lower tactical internet upgrades, WIN-T Increment 2 will provide unprecedented network connectivity and capabilities to small units.

"WIN-T Increment 2 allows commanders to have the information that they need to accomplish their missions and to have it in near real-time, down to the company level," Bache said. "So they can be moving around out there on the edge of the battlefield and they don't have to stop to get needed information, they can continue moving, they can continue on with their mission."