COL Ed Swanson: WIN-T can replace network infrastructure in Afghanistan as bases close. ()
Army PEO C3T’s WIN-T Increment 2 brings an on-the-move, non-line-of-sight communications capability to the Army. WIN-T Increment 2 is presently deployed with two Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) in Afghanistan.
For an update on the program, WIN-T Project Manager COL Ed Swanson spoke with C4ISR & Net
works Editor Barry Rosenberg.
C4ISRNET: What’s the feedback from the first two Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) on WIN-T Increment 2 and Capability Set 13 networking technologies in Afghanistan?
SWANSON: We’ve received positive feedback from soldiers, commanders and S6s. The first unit that fielded with Capability Set 13, the Army’s integrated tactical communications package that as you know uses WIN-T Increment 2 as its mobile network backbone, was the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (4/10). They deployed to Afghanistan last summer, and 3rd BCT, 10th Mountain joined them in the fall of 2013.
I had the opportunity to talk to the 4/10 brigade commander, Col. Mario Diaz, and I got to hear firsthand some of the valuable things that WIN-T Increment 2 is allowing his unit to do, especially as the drawdown in Afghanistan continues and forward operating bases are closing down.
For the last 12 years there, network infrastructure has been built up to support operations, but now as U.S. forces return home many fixed sites are being taken down. However, soldiers and commanders can still communicate by taking advantage of WIN-T Increment 2 equipment, such as the Point of Presence, which provides mobile mission command on the move and enterprise services like chat and voice over Internet protocol phone calls. WIN-T Increment 2 enables soldiers to successfully complete their missions as the operating environment in that region continues to change. They can exchange voice, video and data without that fixed infrastructure; maintaining this type of presence is referred to as ‘keeping a warm base.’ Without these ‘warm bases,’ our forces would need to utilize a lot more equipment and soldiers.
WIN-T Increment 2 is also enabling the 10th Mountain Division units to communicate over extended distances in extremely remote and rugged terrain; some of the locations are just unbelievable. So it’s allowing them to conduct missions that they couldn’t do prior to the deployment of CS 13.
C4ISRNET: How is the equipment holding up under the wear and tear?
SWANSON: So far the equipment’s been holding up well. We keep a close eye on spare stockages and what’s being turned in to make sure we’ve got enough forward support to keep everything up and operational. The availability of the system has been good, and the forward deployed field support representatives along with the organic soldier maintainers are doing a great job of keeping the system up and running. For those components that have had issues, we have an excellent track record of replacing those components with unit spares and backfilling those spares very quickly via the Regional Support Centers. We are also actively monitoring any equipment issues in theater and other fielded units to identify potential reliability issues and add those to our ongoing reliability improvement plan in order to continually improve the system over time. Bottom line, while there is no such thing as a perfect system, its overall performance in theater has been strong and we are actively applying feedback from CS 13 units to continuously improve WIN-T Increment 2.
What is the WIN-T Increment 2 fielding plan beyond these first two BCTs?
SWANSON: The 2nd and 3rd BCTs of the 101st Airborne Division were also fielded with CS 13 and WIN-T Increment 2 in 2013. Throughout 2014, the Army is planning to field 10 units (two division headquarters, five infantry BCTs, and three Stryker BCTs) with CS 14 and WIN-T Increment 2 components through the CS Fielding and Unit Set Fielding processes. WIN-T Increment 2 is being integrated onto Stryker platforms for the first time as part of CS 14 fielding. The Stryker integration was demonstrated at the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 14.1 in fall 2013 and will be tested during NIE 15.1 in fall 2014 with a full battalion of Stryker vehicles.
C4ISRNET: This spring’s NIE 14.2 will feature increased joint and multinational participation. What will WIN-T be evaluating at the next NIE?
SWANSON: Product Manager WIN-T Increment 1 is doing some interesting things, including demonstrating a new line-of-sight radio that may eventually replace Increment 1’s current high-capacity line-of-sight radio. The new radio reduces size, weight and power and increases throughput from 16 megabytes per second to about 200 Mbps. The program is also evaluating a radio-bridging and voice cross-banding module to allow the fusing of radio networks and phone networks.
Another capability to watch is our Tropo-Lite, a transit case-based tropospheric scatter communications system that replaces our old truck and trailer-based Tropo system. These systems shoot microwaves instead of satellite radio frequencies, allowing for the secure, high-speed transfer of large volumes of data between sites and over terrestrial obstructions. They help reduce the Army’s reliance on expensive commercial and military satellites.
Also being demonstrated at the next NIE is JOLTED TACTICS (Joint Operational Long Term Evolution Deployable TACTIcal Cellular System], which is a 4G LTE system that will allow soldiers to use SIPRNet on the battlefield via mobile devices. We’re also adding Wi-Fi to that system. These capabilities have many applications – they could potentially eliminate all the wires and cables in command posts and further untether commanders and soldiers operating around command post areas. Also on board for NIE 14.2 from PdM WIN-T Increment 1 is the Mission Network Enclave, a small baseband package that allows soldiers to use either a coalition network, or if needed for disaster response, commercial Internet.
Additionally, we’ll be demonstrating an advanced WIN-T Network Operations (NetOps) tool suite that is planned for fielding to units equipped with WIN-T Increment 2. NetOps enables communication officers to plan, initialize, monitor, manage, respond and protect their networks. This suite will be used as the baseline for the Army’s NetOps convergence efforts, which are aimed at simplifying network management and are a key component of PEO C3T’s overall network modernization roadmap.
The Modular Integrated Command Post (MiCP), a vehicle that efficiently provides networking equipment and onboard vehicle power to support a tactical command post, was evaluated at previous NIEs and will be evaluated again at 14.2 this spring. We’re leveraging the semi-annual NIEs as much as possible to continually improve network capability and make it easier to operate and maintain.
C4ISRNET: What are some of the gaps that you’re looking to address?
SWANSON: There are SWaP gaps in integrating the network on legacy heavy platforms, like tanks and Bradley vehicles. These platforms are maxed out in space and power availability, and it is challenging to integrate any new tactical network equipment. Now, with some of the new platforms like the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, we’re getting ahead of that, working with those platform program mangers and saying ‘here’s what we think the network requirements are going to be in the future.’ Then they can plan for those SWaP requirements in their designs up front.
We are working in reverse right now; we’ve got new network equipment that needs to be integrated into legacy vehicles that have been around for decades. So we need to address SWaP issues and make the network more modular so we can put it on any platform; it’s a big challenge. There are physical limitations on the size of the SATCOM dishes, so there’s a tradeoff in capability and bandwidth if you’re going to make the SATCOM dishes smaller. There are some other innovative ideas being worked, such as having multiple, smaller distributed aperture antennas located on a vehicle.
C4ISRNET: WIN-T Increment 1 provides at-the-halt communications and is fully fielded to the Army. What improvements are you making to that capability?
SWANSON: We are doing some upgrades, referred to as Increment 1B, which basically puts a colorless core router and the Network Centric Waveform modem from Increment 2 into Increment 1 units to enhance interoperability and security of the network.
Another interesting new capability is the Enroute Mission Command Capability (EMC2) system. EMC2 will provide Internet access and mission command capability for Global Response Force (GRF) units while in flight, increasing capability for GRF units to plan and maintain critical situational awareness in the air. To satisfy mission requirements, PdM WIN-T Increment 1 is installing fixed-install satellite antennas onto a number of C-17 aircraft and developing a Key Leader Enroute Node as part of the program office’s EMC2 system.
Additionally, WIN-T Increment 1’s Transportable Tactical Command Communications (T2C2) program is working to provide small teams and company-sized early entry units robust voice and data communications capabilities in the initial phases of joint operations. There are two versions of T2C2. The heavy version will provide small units such as companies with beyond-line-of-sight satellite capabilities, similar to the high-bandwidth SIPR/NIPR Access Point (SNAP) terminals the Army has used for six years in theater. The ‘lite’ version will provide small detachments a similar but lighter beyond-line-of-sight satellite capability based on a U.S. Special Operations program. It's similar to the Army’s Global Rapid Response Information Package (GRRIP), which is a suitcase-sized, beyond-line-of-sight capability, but with much higher throughput. Over the next few years, SNAPs and GRRIPs are slated to be used as a bridging capability until the final capability is fielded, with many of these SNAPs and GRRIPs being refurbished from the Afghanistan drawdown.
Another great effort managed by our SATCOM program is the Global Tactical Advanced Communication Systems (GTACS) contract. It’s one of the largest contracts the Department of Defense (DoD) plans to issue within the next few years. The contract has a $10 billion ceiling that provides one-stop-shopping for a very broad range of hardware and services in support of that hardware. The contract’s range, flexibility and consolidation capabilities will enable the Army, DoD and other agencies to spend more efficiently and rapidly provide the right capability to the battlefield.
It’s a five-year Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract that has a pretty expansive scope. The source selection process resulted in awards to 20 prime contractors, both large and small companies, who can compete for the broad spectrum of work that is anticipated under this contract. We anticipate GTACS will reduce administrative redundancy, while offering best value solutions to meet government requirements and provide cost savings as a result of increased competition.