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Brig. Gen. Daniel Hughes
Brig. Gen. Daniel Hughes (Army)

Responsible for tactical radios and waveforms, as well as on-the-move communications, the Army’s Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) is now starting to collect lessons learned as some of these systems deploy to Afghanistan for the first time.

To discuss those systems and others related to the Network Integration Evaluations and the Future Mission Network, newly installed PEO C3T BG Daniel Hughes responded to written questions from C4ISR & Networks Editor Barry Rosenberg.

The general was previously director, system of systems integration at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and deputy commanding general of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

C4ISRNET: With support of the war fighter a given, what’s at the top of your to-do list?

HUGHES: Simplify. During the past decade, we have seen explosive growth in the amount of digital information available to our commanders and soldiers. A company commander today has network and mission command capabilities rivaling what a brigade commander had at the start of the war in Iraq.

But these enhancements have also made the network more complex for the end user. We have systems that can show us volumes of data on fires, logistics, or friendly and enemy force locations, yet we don’t have one system that brings the entire picture together. We have constantly evolving software, but some tools require too many clicks or permission levels for soldiers to actually find their best features. We have great communications systems inside combat and tactical vehicles, but they each come with their own monitors and other hardware, creating a challenge for operators in tight quarters.

So, simplification of our networked mission command capabilities will be a key priority for PEO C3T. We are taking a strategic look at our portfolio, both hardware and software, to identify opportunities for convergence.

For example, the new Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE), part of the Army’s Common Operating Environment (COE) initiative, creates a web-based environment where commanders can achieve a more complete common operational picture by accessing applications for all war-fighting functions, including intelligence, on a single screen.

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The Mounted Family of Computer Systems is introducing a standardized family of tactical computers that allow users to operate several different software applications over a single computer inside a vehicle. Working with industry, we are delivering next-generation radios that run advanced waveforms but are still simple to operate at the lowest echelons.

These improvements and others are grounded in soldier feedback from testing and theater. We will continue to work closely with users and other program offices to ensure that commanders and soldiers get the most out of the information and capabilities we deliver.

C4ISRNET: What are your thoughts on the recent GAO report about the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) that said this: “The Army is not taking full advantage of the potential knowledge that could be gained from the NIEs, and some resulting Army decisions are at odds with knowledge accumulated during the NIEs.” How do you think you can take full advantage of these evaluations?

HUGHES: The NIE is an evolving and adaptive process. The Army, with its industry partners, is learning from the NIE efforts and applying those lessons learned to improve the process and deliver integrated network capabilities more efficiently.

The NIEs have produced a number of significant integration and training lessons learned for several major network systems, including Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, Joint Battle Command-Platform, Nett Warrior and tactical radios.

As Army and budget priorities mature into fiscal year 2015 and beyond, NIEs may look different, but they will remain a key venue to integrate network systems and obtain soldier feedback prior to fielding. As an example, a major difference in the upcoming NIE 14.1 from previous NIEs is the increased use of modeling and simulations. The Army is responding to fiscal challenges and will deploy one battalion to the field for the NIE, while the remainder of the Brigade Combat Team will participate in a virtual environment. The Army is using NIE 14.1 as a shaping action to continue to make the NIE process more efficient.

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The Army remains committed to the three-fold intent of the NIE: to reduce the integration burden on operational formations; to define, develop and integrate capability sets; and to provide a forum to leverage promising industry capabilities that solve operational gaps.

C4ISRNET: What’s the rationale for having full and open competitions on the Rifleman and Manpack radios?

HUGHES: The Army fully supports direction by Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to conduct full and open competitions, open to all industry partners, for the next generation of the Rifleman and Manpack radios.

To date, the Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit (HMS) program has been authorized to purchase 19,327 Rifleman Radios and 3,826 Manpack Radios through low rate initial production orders from the original program of record vendors. The new competitions cover the full rate production phase of both programs and will support production and fielding of the radios along with enhanced capabilities for future capability sets.

The intent of the competitions is to decrease costs, drive down size, weight and power, and increase overall system functionality for the soldier. There has been significant innovation in the software-defined radio marketplace during the last decade, and the Army is poised to take advantage of it. Soldier feedback and test data from the NIEs and other test events have also helped identify areas where we can improve our radio technologies, as well as refine the supporting training and doctrine for how to employ them on the battlefield.

The full and open competitions will include technical and field tests of the solutions proposed by current and new industry partners. We encourage all vendors to participate in the competitions and look forward to seeing the new and innovative ways they can meet this vital network requirement.

C4ISRNET: What are the early lessons learned on WIN-T deployment with the two initial BCTs?

HUGHES: Fielding a new capability is always a learning experience, and delivering WIN-T Increment 2 to the 3rd and 4th Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), 10th Mountain Division as part of Capability Set (CS) 13 has taught us a great deal that the Army can leverage going forward.

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This is a powerful system — bringing the on-the-move communications and situational awareness that commanders need to lead from anywhere on the battlefield — but also a demanding one, so training needs to be as effective as possible. To set the conditions for success, we’ve learned that we need to work with units to ensure that key personnel within the BCT who will be operating WIN-T are assigned to their proper positions prior to the start of new equipment training and fielding.

This includes operators at the company level, because WIN-T Increment 2 extends the network to that echelon for the first time. For continuity, these trained personnel then need to remain with the unit through their Joint Readiness Training Center rotations and subsequent deployments.

Lessons learned have also highlighted the importance of planning, coordinating and tracking all equipment movements from continental United States to Operation Enduring Freedom with field service representatives, unit points of contact and the WIN-T team so the unit can hit the ground running when the equipment arrives in theater. This communication is especially critical during retrograde operations, when CS 13 deliveries and integration must be balanced with the removal of other network assets.

There have been many encouraging lessons learned from the units’ initial mission sets working with their Afghan partners. Vehicles equipped with WIN-T Increment 2 Point of Presences are well-suited to support a wide range of security assistance operations in mountainous terrain, at extended distances from the forward operating bases, both at-the-halt and on-the-move. Soldiers have successfully exchanged Voice over Internet Protocol calls, full-motion video, email and chat; conducted mission planning; accessed web portals; and sent and received intelligence and operations reports.

C4ISRNET: What’s the plan to take CS 13 beyond the two initial BCTs?

HUGHES: It has been very gratifying to see CS 13 come to fruition over the past year as a total Army effort. We regularly hear from the 4th BCT, 10th Mountain Division – the first unit to use CS 13 in theater – about how these technologies extend their “digital reach.” Battalion-level advising teams are exchanging voice and data, accessing mission command systems and maintaining situational awareness while on patrols, even in extremely difficult terrain.

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Brigade, battalion and company leadership are digitally tracking and communicating with small groups of soldiers who have spread out to remote locations — even inside distant buildings — as they advise their Afghan partners.

While it is still early in their deployment, the users tell us that CS 13 is a significant improvement over their previous equipment and will become even more critical as drawdown operations accelerate, and U.S. and coalition forces remove fixed communications infrastructure.

The next step for CS 13 is the fielding and training operations that are now underway for two more brigades, the 2nd and 3rd BCTs of the 101st Airborne Division. The 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain Division headquarters have also received WIN-T Increment 2 and other CS 13 elements this year, for a total of four BCTs and two division headquarters equipped with the capability set.

The follow-on CS fieldings are incorporating lessons learned from the ongoing NIEs and the 10th Mountain BCTs’ experience, including a new leader’s course to help commanders understand how to fight the integrated network capabilities. Just as we have training for commanders to fight heavy weapons capabilities, air support capabilities, indirect fire capabilities, etc., commanders need to understand the network as a combat multiplier and not just a collection of signal capabilities.

With each integrated fielding effort, the units can adapt the equipment to their particular mission requirements. Our aim is to provide scalable and tailorable equipment that is integrated across all levels, so it can be responsive to what the commander needs to execute mission command. That integrated network baseline and built-in flexibility will be critical in the future as the Army restructures its BCTs and regionally aligns its forces.

C4ISRNET: Tell me about the connection between WIN-T Increment 3 (the aerial tier) and the Joint Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (JC4ISR) radio.

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HUGHES: The JC4ISR radio is a key piece of the capability that WIN-T Increment 3 brings to the soldier. The JC4ISR is a dual channel radio running the Highband Networking Waveform (HNW) version 3.0, which is the technology that enables the leap forward in network capability that WIN-T Increment 3 provides. The radio greatly improves throughput capacity and extends communications ranges, and its dual-channel capability facilitates additional operational flexibility for both ground and air operations. The combination of this highly capable radio, the latest evolution in the HNW waveform, and the high power antenna are what make the air tier possible.

Putting a radio on an aircraft is nothing new. What Increment 3 has to bring is a radio and architecture that seamlessly laces the terrestrial network and the satellite network together. This combination of hardware and software is the WIN-T Communications Payload (WCP) and will be integrated with the Grey Eagle unmanned aircraft system to provide the commander the ability to push network capability to the critical points on the battlefield.

This three-tiered architecture (terrestrial, aerial and celestial) will increase the capacity, availability and the overall reliability of the network. The air tier will free up satellite communications resources and offset the latency associated with SATCOM, while extending the range of network connectivity across the area of operations.

C4ISRNET: What are the challenges of network operations, how do you gain good insight into all the nodes, and what is the status of your NetOps systems?

HUGHES: The challenge for network operations is how to integrate the continuous advancement of NetOps tools with the ongoing fielding and upgrades of existing systems. Each program that makes up the Army’s integrated tactical network has specific requirements and fielding timelines, so it is a challenge to provide the signal officer (S6) with a fully integrated set of tools to manage the entire network. Success is when we can give the S6 one tool to manage one network.

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PEO C3T is leading efforts to streamline the processes and tools involved in NetOps in order to simplify training, reduce execution timelines and give more control and flexibility to soldiers. We are working across our portfolio to build the roadmap toward that goal of one integrated tool, and consistently bring our NetOps solutions to the NIEs to get operational feedback on our progress.

As we develop the long-term convergence roadmap — which also includes greater integration between the tactical and strategic components of the Army LandWarNet — we have already notched some early successes. For example, CS 13 units received the Joint Tactical Networking Environment Network Operations Toolkit (J-TNT), which collapses several lower tactical network tools — mostly radio management tools – onto one laptop so that users can monitor all radios on the battlefield. Before J-TNT, there were nearly 50 tools for signal soldiers to plan, manage, monitor and control what is known as the Lower Tactical Network Environment, and soldiers had to haul multiple laptops and cables to accommodate them. J-TNT is an important step forward, and we continue to fold other capabilities into that foundation.

For the upper tactical internet, the upgraded WIN-T Increment 2 NetOps tools that being used in Afghanistan today give S6s more visibility of network nodes and the power to reach into the network and control operations from a central location. Inside a Tactical Operations Center, WIN-T Increment 2 NetOps 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 also network strength and how well the system is working in the area of operations. S6s can identify systems that don’t have enough bandwidth and aren’t connected through stronger line-of-sight links, but are instead going over satellite.

WIN-T Increment 2 NetOps tools are primarily provided at the division and brigade, but there are also capabilities at the battalion level. Equipped with these capabilities, battalions too now have a better idea of the health of their individual nodes at the company, troop and battery levels. That facilitates their ability to troubleshoot and identify challenges.

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Some of the challenges of network operations occur as we continually increase the complexity of the network with more and more equipment, which requires better and more integrated NetOps. The S6 must have the tools and the operational picture to ensure the different pieces of network equipment can “talk” to each other, or use bandwidth in the most efficient way possible. Finding and fixing network roadblocks before they can negatively affect the network is also extremely important. NetOps have been greatly improved with CS 13 and WIN- T Increment 2, and will be further enhanced in WIN-T Increment 3 and future capability sets.

C4ISRNET: What’s new with the Joint Tactical Networking Center (JTNC)? Are there any other waveforms in development?

HUGHES: As part of the Department of Defense, and under executive management of PEO C3T, the JTNC develops, sustains and certifies joint tactical networking applications and waveforms, ensuring they are secure, interoperable and affordable. The waveforms overseen by the JTNC include waveforms developed under the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program — Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) and Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) — plus 14 legacy waveforms, including Link 16, that were updated to run on software programmable radios. All waveforms adhere to open standards set by the government, allowing them to run on multiple hardware models industry produces. This lays the foundation for a competitive and innovative marketplace of interoperable Non-Developmental Item radios.

Since the JTNC’s establishment in October 2012, the JTNC and the Joint Tactical Networks (JTN) program office have advanced both waveforms and network management services. Network management services have matured into a single common application: JTRS Enterprise Network Manager (JENM), which became a component of the J-TNT toolkit fielded with CS 13. In July, we released the latest version of WNW and successfully demonstrated initial MUOS waveform operations on the Manpack radio.

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There are no new waveforms in development, but we are continuously enhancing existing waveforms. For example, in December we are targeting the initial delivery of a “pre-emptive voice” capability for the SRW Combat Net Radio, enabling commanders or other unit leaders to actively pre-empt others on the same call group to quickly convey critical information. Such upgrades are reflected in the JTNC/JTN information repository so they can benefit radio programs across the joint services.

C4ISRNET: There’s talk of a Future Mission Network that would build on the work of Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS)-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF ), or CX-I, for collaboration with partners. I understand there’s been some new thinking about the Future Mission Network, and exactly what that should be. What are your thoughts on that?

HUGHES: A potential Future Mission Network would essentially replace the Afghan Mission Network for use in any future coalition efforts. Our support to that network would include our Contingency Communications Equipment, also called Mission Network Enclave, which is an enclave (a small network stack) that Product Manager (PdM) WIN-T Increment 1 will be fielding to expeditionary signal battalions. The Contingency Communications Equipment will be readily swappable to serve as a CENTRIXS enclave or a commercial Internet enclave. Similar to our efforts with CX-I and CX-Korea (CX-K), this standardized enclave would provide voice and data services, but would not provide data and messaging servers.

PEO C3T is creating this new standard network enclave as part of an Army network modernization directive. Instead of having different coalition network enclaves, such as CX-I and CX-K, for separate mission requirements, the Army will be able to utilize this standard enclave for many different applications, including homeland security and disaster relief missions within U.S. borders. U.S. forces will be able to utilize the network enclave to communicate with forces that do not reside on secure U.S. military networks. Both CX-I and CX-K network enclaves, and eventually the standardized network enclave, enable secure communication exchange with coalition partners and ultimately with other entities as missions require.

The proof of concept for the standardized network enclave is scheduled to be evaluated at NIE 14.2 in the spring of 2014. The 86th Expeditionary Signal Battalion will evaluate the equipment and offer feedback, which PdM WIN-T Increment 1 will utilize to improve the capability. Advancements in the technology will also allow us to decrease the enclave’s SWaP requirements.

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