FORT BLISS, Texas and WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Army was preparing to ship out after helping Gorgas defend itself from the belligerent state of Donovia. Gorgas and Donovia are in peace talks — or so the Army thought.

One Army, one network

Doug Wiltsie, assistant secretary of the Army and director for System of Systems Engineering and Integration, says you have to look at all the disparate networks as one system.

Donovia is again up to no good along the border. and Gorgas fears it is using separatist regions, which are claiming Donovian descent and wishing to align with the country, to try to seize terrain and resources in Gorgas.

Sound familiar? That's because the scenario mimics the ongoing Ukrainian-Russian conflict. But the Army isn't in Russia, it's in the expansive, desolate desert of Texas along the US-Mexico border for Network Integration Evaluation 16.2.

The Army is using a scenario similar to what it might encounter in a conflict with Russia, which that involves full-spectrum operations to prove out and refine emerging and important aspects of its tactical network.

"It stresses the network differently than it would if, say, we were just doing counterinsurgency or just doing offensive operations," Doug Wiltsie, executive director of the Systems of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate with the Army’s Acquisition, Logistics and Technology branch, told Defense News in an interview May 26 at the C4ISR & Networks conference in Arlington, Virginia,  Thursday. "It really stresses the network in how we are moving, so nodes are moving, and then how much information is being passed."

And what better way than to give the network a workout in an environment where a foe may have strong offensive cyber capability or the ability to jam a network? The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has shown the latter Russia has strong electronic warfare capabilities. while tThe US Army, however, has lagged in developing its own capability.

The Donovians "haven't crossed the border yet, but they've started moving their recon forces," Maj. Robert Richardson, an intel officer for the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, told Defense News in the NIE's tactical operating command post at the start of the evaluation.

Richardson's role is vital. "I'm tied into the entire intel community apparatus, I have the entire weight of the US government behind this intel cell," he said. "I see everything the entire combatant command can see."

One such capability meant to ensure a forward-deployed tactical unit has all the information it needs to make smart decisions on the battlefield was evaluated at the two-week-long NIE which wrapped up May 17.

The Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE) takes a number of disparate capabilities — 26 programs of record — and collapses it into one common picture, according to Col. Robert Collins, who manages the program as well as the Army's Distributed Common Ground System.

"We are trying to take what has been scores of servers that are out throughout the tactical operations center and develop a common server," that streamlines training and maintenance, he said.

The Army is also taking everything needed in a mission command center from DCGS-A, the Army's intelligence analysis framework, to field artillery and fusing them into one picture. "There could be distortions on graphics, each system has different mapping engines," Collins said. "Today we've got about 13 different map sets out there as we try to translate that. We want to get down to a single map set."

Lastly, the Army is trying to expand who has access to certain battlefield functions and where. This way a JAG officer who needs to analyze rules of engagement doesn't have to fight a field artillery officer for screen time, Collins explained. "They can walk up to any type of laptop computer" and access the same common picture, he added.

Wiltsie noted consolidating servers through CP CE "worked very well."

A major aspect of the NIE this time around was conducting an operational test of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 3 network operations tools and the Network Centric Waveform. WIN-T Inc. 3 NetOps allows seamless integration of tactical network planning, management, monitoring and defense for the signal staff.

Wiltsie said the test of the WIN-T Inc. 3 system was the No. 1number one priority at NIE.

The Army also conducted an operational test of the Spider munition system that gets away from victim-activated minefield systems of yore. The system always has a man-in-the-loop and was tested that way at NIE.

The Army also conducted an operational assessment of its mid-tier network to include the maneuver radio, according to Wiltsie.

"We ran a series of exercises of things being denied [such as satellite connectivity], changes in the environment to see how we could stress," the network, Wiltsie said. "Then the objective going in for the maneuver radio was really focused on basis of issue," meaning how many radios are needed in the mid-tier network, if any, according to Wiltsie.

"They really did it in three different courses of action, a full basis of issue, which was a certain number, then a significantly lower number and a number in between to see how the network reacted and could you pass information and have the battalions still maintain the operational effectiveness to accomplish the tasks they needed to complete," he said.

Wiltsie reported that the commander of the Brigade Modernization Command is planning to release a full report on the NIE 16.2 in three to four weeks. The report will contain decisions on the way forward for WIN-T Inc. 3, the Mid-Tier Network and Spider, among other systems and capabilities within the network.

During his keynote address at the C4ISR Conference Wiltsie said some of the key takeaways from the NIE is that training is important and needs to be rigorous. Commonality is also key, which includes  such as having common maps, servers and access.

Wiltsie added the Army also learned that cyber requirements are going to have to vary by event. Switching from the U.S. secret network to coalition secret networks as planned for the upcoming Army Warfighting Assessments "adds complexity."

The Army going forward has to improve and institutionalize the network as a weapon system, Wiltsie said. This includes continuing to reduce complexity, figuring out the baseline configurations for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, Stryker BCTs and Armored BCTs and focusing on building proficiency, training, maintenance and sustainment, he said.

Twitter: @JenJudson