For more than two decades, the U.S. Army has been struggling to find a way of exploiting the IT revolution so as to provide continuous communication and data sharing for mobile field units. Fixed units and many air and sea platforms have extremely sophisticated communications systems that allow the rapid sharing of huge amounts of data. But when it comes to mobile ground units, specifically Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) down to individual soldiers, there have been persistent problems. BCTs and headquarters could generally stay in communications with similar units or echelons higher when they were halted. But communications during movement and across all the elements of a brigade had defied solution.
Now, the Army appears to have broken the code. The brigades that just deployed to Afghanistan have gone into the field with something called Capabilities Set 13. The heart of the new system is something called the Warrior Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). It provides the basic communications architecture, radios, computers, satellite links and both fixed and mobile Tactical Communication Nodes (TCNs). The combination of TCNs and satellite communications provides a mobile network infrastructure on the battlefield. When the TCNs are combined with shorter-range communications devices such as the Points of Presence, Vehicle Wireless Packages, and Soldier Network Extensions in the current or Increment 2 of WIN-T, the result is a mission command system that extends from division to company based on a network that is mobile, ad-hoc, self-forming, and self-healing.
Capabilities Set 13 also includes an array of tactical communications and IT devices, many commercially built, that takes the information arriving at the company level and pushes it all the way down to the individual soldier. The Army has been working feverishly over the past two years or so to put together a system of radios and communications devices that could link individual soldiers up through the squad and platoon to the company and battalion. Capability Set 13 includes a variety of devices such as the AN/PRC-117G, the Handheld, Manpack & Small Form Fit and Soldier Radio Waveform appliqué radios. In addition, the Capabilities Set also includes Nett Warrior, an interactive situational awareness capability that allows soldiers and small unit leaders to employ smartphones and tablets to acquire and maintain a common picture of the tactical battle space.
The Army’s success in deploying this system with forces in combat is due in large part to an earlier decision to create something called the Network Integration Experiment (NIE) at Fort Bliss, Texas. The NIE conducts twice yearly field exercises in which a combined arms unit takes the technologies and systems that the Army is considering making part of its mobile communications system and tests it under real world conditions for several weeks. Data is collected and the designers of these devices are allowed to observe and even support the effort. As a result, bad ideas are weeded out early, problems with interface linkages and protocols are identified and corrected and a better system can be deployed six months later for the next round of the NIE.
The final step in this process will be the deployment of WIN-T Increment 3. This will add an airborne communications capability as well as higher performance radios and IT systems. The result will be continuous, reliable, high quality voice, data and video being able to move seamlessly across an entire BCT network and even between BCTs to higher echelons. The power of real-time connectivity and data will be available to every warfighter on the battlefield.
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