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Soldiers in Afghanistan to Receive New Networking Gear

by Kris Osborn on June 20, 2013

size0As the U.S. Army continues its drawdown in Afghanistan, soldiers and units there are slated to receive interconnected suites of high-tech, next-generation networking gear designed to improve access to combat information and massively strengthen digital connectivity among dispersed ground units on the move, service officials said.

The U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division will deploy to Afghanistan this summer with the gear, service officials confirmed. Called Capability Set 13, or CS 13, the integrated set of technologies includes a wide range of things such as vehicle-mounted mobile Satcom dishes for on-the-move connectivity, improved software, software programmable radios such as Rifleman Radio and smart-phone-like, digital hand-held devices able to show moving map displays for the individual dismounted soldier or squad leader.

The Army has begun fielding CS 13 systems to support the draw down in Afghanistan, which is conducting Security Forces Advise and Assist team missions with Afghan forces, said Nickee Abbott, a technical integrator for Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

“CS 13 provides mission command-on-the-move capability, through the WIN-T Increment 2 and drives networking down to the squad level through a variety of tactical radios, including the Rifleman Radio and the Nett Warrior System. This ‘networking to the tactical edge’ is critical to our soldiers’ survival,” said Abbott.

WIN-T Increment 2 is a mobile Satcom and radio network designed to give commanders on-the-move in vehicles access to real-time data such as integrated moving maps, chat, messaging and pertinent intelligence information they would otherwise need to be at a “fixed” location to see.

“CS 13 is being fielded right now. We’re getting feedback that it is going very well and that it adds a lot of capability. With fewer FOBs {Forward Operating Bases} now due to the drawdown, better command and control will pay big dividends,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Williamson,  Assistant Military Deputy, Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. “We’re starting to really see the equipment and software come together with the integration of coms {communications gear}, sensors and sensor data. The advanced networking capability really improves things for the warfighter.”

Williamson, who has been involved in modernizing the Army’s tactical networks for many years, was instrumental in establishing and refining the NIE process which gave rise to CS 13, a suite of technologies which will be incrementally improved and added to as additional systems develop.

“What this really does is it lends itself to a certain modernization strategy or philosophy. Instead of a ‘big bang’ theory of technology where you spend 10 years getting everything to the force – what you see with the NIE is how you can add value incrementally,” Williamson said. “You will keep adding capability to formations every year as you learn from new material.”

One analyst said WIN-T Inc. 2 represents a substantial technological leap forward when it comes to on-the-move communication in vehicles.

“Anything that will aide a commander’s situational awareness has got to be a plus. We have over time evolved from basic radios going back to the World War I era to now where a commander can look at a digital screen, receive key information and see where his vehicles are. That makes a big difference as they can visually develop the situation,” said Dean Lockwood, weapons systems analyst, Forecast International.

Other portions of CS 13 include Rifleman Radio, a single-channel, hand-held software programmable tactical radio engineered to use a high bandwidth waveform called Soldier Radio Waveform to network force with tactically useful voice, data and image information in real-time. High bandwidth waveforms, such as SRW, use a larger portion of the available electro-magnetic spectrum compared to legacy waveforms to faster and more efficiently move larger amounts of information across the force, essentially “networking” them in real time.

Nett Warrior is a hand-held, smart-phone-like device, which gives dismounted squad leaders the ability to view real-time moving map displays showing force position information, among other things.

The range or system of technologies woven into CS 13, which also includes other gear, radios and a next-generation software technology called Joint Battle Command – Platform, are by design engineered to work in tandem with one another through what the Army refers to as a system of systems engineering approach, Abbott explained. Joint Battle Command-Platform is an Army-Marine Corps force tracking software technology designed to give forces real-time position location information for both friendly and enemy forces as well as surrounding terrain.

System of systems integration means that the technical architecture of these technologies were developed and refined – at their inception – to work with one another and inter-operate. In part, this means technologies are developed with a mind to common set of technical standards and internet protocols so that emerging systems can more seamlessly integrate with existing ones.

Abbott, an engineer with 18 years of service with the Army, says she has seen this process unfold and mature over time.

“The NIE has allowed an opportunity to enhance my knowledge on entire package of network components, associated equipment and software that provides an integrated network capability from the static Tactical Operations Center to the dismounted Soldier,” she said.

Essentially, the NIE allows the Army to formulate networking standards and evaluate industry-developed systems, Abbott said. The NIE also provides soldiers with an opportunity to provide input into the designs of networking systems, and allows the Army to create new tactics, techniques, and procedures for utilizing the new systems in theater, she added.

“The NIE is also usually the first time many of the latest Army systems are integrated together and required to interoperate. The NIE environment provides an essential “playbox”, where PMs {program managers}bring the latest versions of their software and see for the first time how well it performs with all the other systems within a brigade architecture. The result is feedback directly from both engineers and soldiers to PMs on how their system does or does not perform or integrate,” said Abbott.

The most recent NIE, called 13.2, ran a bunch of these systems through a series of rigorous tests and analyses, said William Horton, Deputy Project Manager, PM Current, ASA (ALT). The idea with the evaluations is to place key technologies and emerging systems in specific battle-relevant scenarios so as to refine tactics and assess their relative maturity and utility, he explained.

“We stand up the network as part of the integration process. Then following the integration effort we go through a validation exercise. We go through a structured process where we load the data products into the system,” Horton explained.  “13.2 was focused on user testing on WIN-T, JBC-P and Nett Warrior. Our priority was ensuring that the test community got the appropriate amount of test data and that the test involved the greatest number of vehicles. We designed and integrated 380 vehicles in three and a half months.”

Horton, who has served the Army as an officer and civilian for a total period of more than 20-years, is admittedly enthusiastic about seeing these technologies mature; he recalls working on modernization efforts in the mid 90’s to try to network tanks to one another using digital data receivers.

“I remember conceptually demonstrating things in the early 90’s. I think we’re now getting soldiers something they can really use,” Horton said talking of the networking technologies which comprise CS 13.

The result of these kinds of processes — is an integrated set of technologies such as CS 13 and the soon-to-be-fielded next increment called CS 14, Horton added.

Overall, Williamson emphasized the importance of blending an appropriate measure of balance to any approach to modernization; he describes this as a balance which simultaneously integrates and improves current systems in an incremental fashion so as to harvest the best emerging technologies in the near term – while simultaneously thinking in developmental terms about the long term as well.

“This involves thinking about both evolutionary and revolutionary improvements,” Williamson explained.

Modernization strategy needs to simultaneously think incrementally and also think in terms of near, mid and long term priorities, he added, emphasizing the importance of Science and Technology (S&T) and the need to prioritize basic research designed to uncover paradigm-changing new solutions.

Known as a strategic thinker himself, Williamson credited large portions of his rationale to Heidi Shyu, the Army’s top acquisition executive.

”Ms. Shyu has spent a lot of time getting us to think about different threats in different regions. Ms. Shyu has said to the PMs [program managers] and to the S&T community ‘look at portfolios — look 10, 15 even 30-years out to make sure we are setting the conditions to provide capability today and in the out years,” Williamson explained.

Reiterating a theme of the “soldier and the squad,” Williamson said the entire NIE process is singularly geared to helping U.S. soldiers achieve and maintain overmatch on the battlefield when pitted against any potential enemy.

“How do we best anticipate what the enemy is going to do next – and set the conditions to deliver capability? How do I give our soldiers more protection, improved sensors and weapons systems with extended range? At the end of the day – it is the soldier. We want to make him more mobile, more lethal, more effective. That is our guidance, to do these things for our warfighters,” Williamson said.

 

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