ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Feb. 13, 2013) -- On the battlefield, situational awareness technologies provide Soldiers with the locations of friendly forces and hostile activity, which can mean the difference between life and death.

Now, the Army is upgrading those technologies in theater to operate at increased speeds and include the lowest echelons.

With boots on the ground in Afghanistan, Project Manager Joint Battle Command-Platform, known as PM JBC-P, is equipping Soldiers with the next-generation situational awareness tool known as Joint Capabilities Release, or JCR, an upgrade that is being fielded both prior to and as part of Capability Set 13, or CS 13.

"The fielding to Afghanistan is a major step forward," said Col. Michael Thurston, project manager for JBC-P. "This is laying the groundwork for CS 13 and getting an important capability into the hands of our Soldiers."

CS 13 is the Army's first integrated communications package that spans the entire brigade combat team, or BCT, formation, connecting the fixed tactical operations center to the commander on-the-move to the dismounted Soldier. CS 13, which includes JCR, is comprised of networked vehicles, radios, satellite systems, software applications, hand held devices and other network components, integrated and vetted by Soldiers through the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, process. Two BCTs of the 10th Mountain Division are currently training on the capability set in preparation for deployment later this year.

Building on the widely fielded friendly force tracking system known as Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking, or FBCB2/BFT, JCR brings a faster satellite network, secure data encryption and improved tactical communications and situational awareness.

Through CS 13, JCR will help deliver situational awareness capabilities to the lowest echelons by connecting with networked handheld devices. The dismounted leader can now communicate with his fellow ground troops, and their locations can be tracked by Soldiers in vehicles, aircraft and command posts. Prior to the upgrade, this information was only available inside vehicles or command posts.

"Instead of having to run back to the vehicle or wait for grid coordinates, I can look down, see where (my Soldiers) are at and be able to make a decision of where to deploy them on the battlefield," said 1st Lt. Jason Kruger, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, who used the new technologies during the Army's most recent NIE 13.1.

By combining blue force tracking technology with the handhelds, Kruger said it provided "situational awareness anywhere I go."

JCR includes computers, global positioning equipment and communication systems that work in tandem to provide near-real-time information to combat leaders at the tactical level so units are better able to synchronize operations and avoid friendly fire incidents. Soldiers inside vehicles can plot the location of enemy, friendly and neutral objects and exchange command and control messages. They can also alert nearby friendly units of improvised explosive devices or enemy locations.

The JCR upgrade, developed largely based on Soldier feedback, introduces JCR-Logistics, which integrates JCR capability with the Movement Tracking System (MTS), resulting in a seamless, two-way situational awareness and message exchange between convoys and the maneuver formations to which they are delivering goods.

JCR also utilizes the BFT 2 network, a new satellite infrastructure that can handle significantly more data than the first BFT. This capacity increase allows for more frequent and larger message traffic, and in many cases cuts the system's refresh rate from minutes to seconds.

"Momentum is gaining," said Jeff Forgach, readiness management chief for PM JBC-P. "There's been a fairly large, overwhelming acceptance of JCR-Log and the improved capability it brings with it."

Since Oct. 1, 2012, PM JBC-P has fielded or upgraded a total of 275 JCR platforms and 32 JCR Tactical Operation Center, or TOC, Kits in Afghanistan. Also, a total of 242 JCR-Logistics platforms and 34 JCR-Logistics control stations have been upgraded.

Additional vehicles equipped with JCR and other CS 13 components will accompany the CS 13 brigades when they deploy.

Other JCR enhancements include access to the type one secret network through the KGV-72 encryption device, a new chat function and instant messaging capability.

The JCR upgrade is one of many deployed technologies the Army is preparing as it readies for the new capability set.

Product Manager Network Systems, or PdM NS, is in the process of completing an upgrade in Afghanistan to more than 2,000 theater fielded AN/PRC-117G radios, which are the same type that were fielded to the 10th Mountain Division as part of CS 13.

"This upgrade will set these older radios to the current baseline for the lower tactical internet in CS 13," said Nelson Cespedes, deputy fielding chief for PdM NS. "The 117G provides the capability to expand the [Adaptive Networking Wideband Waveform] and [Soldier Radio Waveform] networks to units outside the CS baseline configuration set."

To ready for deployment of CS 13 to theater, Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or PM WIN-T, is upgrading its WIN-T Increment 1 equipment with the Colorless Core Upgrade, which will improve the security and efficiency of the network, and increase interoperability with WIN-T Increment 2, the tactical communications network backbone of CS 13.

JCR will work with the other CS 13 capabilities to enhance situational awareness and improve communications for Soldiers in theater.