The world has become much more complicated since the Army fielded its multimillion-dollar tactical network program of record called Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T.
The Army is coming to grips with how it will fight — and communicate — in complex future operating environments against both near-peer and insurgent organizations in a variety of geographic regions and terrains. But to do that, the service needs a flexible, agile network.
Over the years, Army leaders realized that the service needed to think about its network differently. Many components of the “tactical” network that fell under WIN-T’s portfolio didn’t necessary have to do with WIN-T, prompting the Army to adopt a “one network” approach, even renaming the WIN-T project office to “tactical networks.”
The Army has had several large programs come under WIN-T, included protected satellite communications and command post, which created confusion within the portfolio versus the WIN-T program of record, Col. Gregory Coile, project manager tactical networks, told C4ISRNET. Now WIN-T is a tool in the bag — albeit a very big tool given that it is the backbone for the network that enables connectivity for the command post. But it doesn’t mean things aren’t hanging off that backbone, Coile said.
“The way we approached it was we took a step back and really evaluated what our capability was, because at the end of the day, regardless of what the program of record is, we’re trying to answer a capability gap and deliver a capability,” Coile added. “We focused on our job to deliver the tactical network. That led us to what we’re really after — even though it’s not solely our mission, we all have to be a part of one network, so we developed our ‘one network’ vison.”
Despite organizationally changing the name, Coile noted that there is still a program called WIN-T increment 1, which offers communications capability at the halt, and increment 2, which allows communications on the move. “None of that goes away,” he said.
The Army right now is undergoing a major review of all IT and network systems, as directed by the chief of staff.
“The Army’s network is a critical enabler of readiness and lethality. The Army regularly conducts assessments and reviews network procedures to ensure that we are prepared to meet the current and future force requirements,” Army spokesman Wayne Hall told C4ISRNET via email. “This review will assist the Army in proactively integrating, aligning and reforming our IT portfolios to ensure infrastructure, programs, weapons and other systems are prepared to adapt. This assessment and review ensures our manpower, budget planning, and acquisition and sustainment strategies can support the Army’s IT requirements.”
The outline of this “one network” approach, based on how the Army fights, comprises five parts.
First is home station operations or training, which encompasses pre-deployment training to ensure soldiers can operate the equipment. As operating environments become more complex, requiring a more expeditionary force that will have to move on an hourly basis, the force cannot afford to have field service representatives or contractors accompany units to help operate comms gear.
“We’ve become very reliant on the capability that industry provides. In many cases we had systems that came to us that were way too complex for soldiers to understand and for leaders to manage,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of networks, services and strategy, Office of the Army CIO. “We cannot afford the luxury to have field service reps with us on every deployment. We’ve got to figure out … [how to make] the systems more intuitive and simple to use.”
Second, the Army must have communications capability en route to conflict zones aboard aircraft such as C-17s. Whether a commander going to jump out of the airplane for an airborne operation or he’s going to land and do a peacekeeping operation, he can still maintain situational awareness using the same mission command applications at home station that he’ll continue to use when he hits the ground, Coile said.
Next is early entry operations, which allow units, typically smaller in size, to be able to connect and pass information — classified or unclassified — within a half-hour.
Fourth, once on the ground troops need to build up the network with greater communications capability with a larger pipe to carry more information.
This involves key components of WIN-T’s Increment 2, including:
· Tactical Communications Node (TCN), which provides the backbone element and command post operations;
· Point of Presence (PoP), which, while installed on select combat platforms at division, brigade and battalion, enables mobile mission command with on the move connectivity through line of sight and beyond line of sight, and;
· Soldier Network Extension (SNE), which provides on-the-move communications to extend the network from brigade down to company.
Finally, when getting into what’s called mature operations in theater, the force transitions to sustainment and stability operations in which a lot of communications gear brought in might stay for an indeterminate period of time. Coile said the Army has kits that have been in the Persian Gulf for two decades that must be operated and maintained. Despite this duration, they are still temporary, as these are not permanent sites.
Last November, the Army held a tabletop exercise in which they asked themselves what are the fundamental requirements needed from a mission command-network perspective for future operations, said Jeff Witsken, director of mission command network integration, Mission Command Center of Excellence.
They identified five critical operational requirements for guiding modernization of the network. One key element was the need for a unified or converged mission command network; the Army doesn’t have a unified network, but rather multiple networks. These include networks for operations, intelligence, logistics and medical information. This, Witsken noted, gets back to the push for one network — these disparate networks are not what the Army will need going forward.
When soldiers land, wherever the crisis may be, they have to be able to fight upon arrival and the network must enable that. “In an environment where we’ve been fairly static over the last 16 years, based out of forward operating bases and combat outposts,” the current network isn’t what they’re going to need in a highly mobile, lethal environment more heavily contested than today, Gallagher said.
“One of the things we have not really optimized ourselves for is that peer adversary that really has the capability to contest us in the air, contest us in space,” he said. “So, the network we deliver for the future really has to be as simple and intuitive as possible for that solider on the edge.”
Part of having an agile network is being able to tailor it to a commander’s need based on threats and regions they might be inserting to.
What underpins this, Coile said, is the notion that the network is IP-based: It begins with applications just like a Mac uses Safari as the application to surf the web.
For the Army these applications include things like Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System or Command Post of the Future. These user applications are fed through platforms such as an unclassified device, a device for secret communications or a device for top-secret communications. They then run through a commercial router and server to an encryption device, but upon hitting the transport layer the data becomes what Coile described as “colorless core.” Regardless of where the data came from, it is now encrypted ones and zeros and can go to any transport segment. These transport segments are the tactical systems in the field, including PoPs, SNEs and Transportable Tactical Command Communications, or T2C2.
“We want to give the [combatant commands] the ability to work in different environments,” Coile said. The service was very focused on a counterinsurgency environment that required heavy equipment and trucks to protect soldiers from roadside improvised explosive devices. However, in Europe or the Pacific, Coile said they have to allow forces the ability to insert very quickly and move quickly. Large platforms such as Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles are too heavy to air transport.
“When we talk about making things more expeditionary, sometimes it’s a choice of platform,” he said. While these heavy vehicles were the right choice in Iraq, potential operating environments of the future could require something that can be loaded into a C-130 or sling-loaded to a Chinook.
Depending on the mission, the commander might only need a T2C2 to handle the initial command post requirements until something larger comes in.
If a commander is going to be in a situation where it’s probable they could be jammed, they’ll want to make sure they have either a Secure, Mobile, Anti-Jam, Reliable, Tactical–Terminal (SMART-T) in the network, which allows for protected satellite communications, or a Troposcatter Transmission (Tropo) capability that doesn’t rely on satellites introducing redundancy into the network.
If going into an Eastern European-type scenario, where commanders will want to move, they’ll want to make sure they have POPs and SNEs, SMART-T, Tropo, or high-speed line of sight to offload that data so their network isn’t dependent on satellite that could be interdicted, Coile said.
However, if going into a humanitarian effort, maybe something like T2C2, or a couple of TCNs is all they’ll need; they don’t necessary have a mobile requirement, but this will allow for a command post, he added.
Given that the Pacific area of responsibility is different from Europe both in threats and terrain that could affect signal transmission, Coile noted that at the end of the day, the Army is an IP-based network that allows all of this to work.
While a similar-type capability for early entry existed prior to the formal standing up of T2C2 as a program of record, both the technological capability and formation into a program of record was a whole new way of doing business given the flexibility of the platform.
The chief is also enabling commanders to take certain risks and trades based on their mission and needs. Forces Command is playing a role in taking feedback from operational units, seeing where they’ve assumed risk in the past, where commanders are saying they’re willing to do that now, and tailoring it accordingly.
The other part for the Army and the direction they are moving in terms of IT and networking includes recognizing that the service as a whole had to move to a standard, common baseline. The formation of T2C2 as a program of record gets toward this by establishing it as the baseline for early entry across the entire force. This makes training and sustainment much easier, officials said.
The standard for WIN-T across the force is Increment 1B, which just received an Army-wide tech refresh. Increment 2 — the on-the-move capability — was never meant to go to everyone, Coile said, just on-the-move units the Army decided needed it.
The Army, after 16 years of war and fielding disparate systems that didn’t talk to each other, still grapples with compatibility issues.
“One of the things the Army is going to have to wrap its head around is, does everybody need the same capability?” said Gary Martin, program executive officer for C3T.
To extend a new capability to the entire Army takes a long time, whether it’s mission command applications or a network technology, he said. The real question they’re going to have to deal with is does everyone have to be equipped the same, balancing how long it takes to get the next capability to the entire Army verses trying to spin out more quickly and get portions of the Army, which leads to variations of capability and perhaps compatibility issues.
As it sits right now, the Army wants common standards and baselines. This will be critical for the future, allowing the Army to plug in modernization efforts as soon as commanders’ architectures and capabilities have been identified.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.