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Army "Networking" Force

Jan 14, 2010

By Kris Osborn

The U.S Army plans to buy its first increment of "networked" technologies as a key step toward outfitting the entire force with elements of the former Future Combat Systems (FCS) network, service officials said.

Instead of merely focusing on FCS Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) as per the original plan, PEO Integration is in the early stages of a plan to port elements of the network across the Army.

"All of our focus now is outfitting every brigade in the Army with these capabilities which will mature over time," said U.S. Army Col. Ken Carrick, project manager, network systems integration.

"Instead of 15 FCS BCTs, we are now getting these capabilities out to the entire force of the Army." This process was advanced by the Dec. 22 Defense Department review of Increment 1 Infantry Brigade Combat Team capabilities. The Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) meeting, termed a Milestone C review, was a holistic review of maturity, requirements, testing and evaluation and production plans for Increment 1 capabilities which include the Small Unattended Ground Vehicle (SUGV), the Class1 Block 0 Unmanned Air System, Unattended Ground Sensors and the Non-Line of Sight Launch System, said Paul Mehney, director of communications for PEO Integration.

Following the Dec. 22 DAB review, the Army received a formal Acquisition Memorandum from the Defense Department approving the way forward for LRIP [Low Rate Initial Production] for one Brigade Combat Team set of Increment I equipment and continued evaluation of the assets during 2010 and beyond, he said.

The Milestone C decision will begin with a move to buy enough gear for one BCT to go through Initial Operational Test and Evaluation with technologies to include robots, sensors, UAVs and vehicles configured with Network Integration Kits (NIK) able to receive information from nodes on the battlefield.

"In the 2010 test cycle, we will take into account the ATEC [Army Test and Evaluation Command] feedback from 2009. We will address liability and maintenance issues and then request equipment for two additional brigades," said Mehney.

The idea of the network is to connect soldiers, vehicles, robots, sensors, UAVs and other technologies to another in real-time on the battlefield -- allowing them to share images, voice, data and video across the force.

A rigorous testing schedule is planned for next year.

"Right now we are moving through Increment 1 of the network build. We will have a series of additional network drops to continue to move that network capability through a series of tests in 2010. There will be a LUT [Limited User Test] next summer as well as additional force development tests to include technical field tests which look for new tactics, techniques and procedures as well as tests aimed at checking the network for vulnerabilities," said Mehney.

The tests will also bring the network into the classified environment, he said.

These scheduled tests next year will seek to expand the breadth of the network, Carrick said.

This past summer in the LUT the network functioned with 7 nodes; next year it will be tested with 12 nodes, and the vehicle-mounted Joint Tactical Radio Systems Ground Mobile Radio (JTRS GMR) will go through software integration tests which will ramp up to 35 nodes. JTRS software programmable radios are integral to the network, several service officials said.

"We are working closely with the JTRS PEO. We are tied at the hip with JTRS. GMR will go through a LUT after ours. We are showing growth and capability with the use of these GMRs radios," Carrick said.

Also, the vehicles configured with NIKs use elements of the middle ware system developed for FCS called System of Systems Common Operating Environment (SOSCOE).

In fact, as part of the planned expansion of the network to the entire force, the Army plans to more broadly apply elements from SOSCOE.

"With SOSCOE software at about 80-percent complete, we have elements for use that can implement Secretary Gates' "80-percent multi-service solution." For example, Boeing reports that the U.S. Border Patrol is already using parts of early SOSCOE software. Since the Army owns the open architecture software, we could apply it where practical," said Rickey Smith, director the Army Capabilities Integration Center -- Forward.

The SOSCOE operating environment-- which can bring together different systems -- might also be applied to other software efforts like Joint Battle Command Platform, the next generation Blue-Forcing Tracking product being developed to provide the Army and Marine Corps with friendly force information, Smith said.

Connecting the Dismounted Soldier

The Army is also embarking upon an initiative aimed at connecting the individual dismounted soldier to the network.

"For many years the TRADOC community has desired increased network connectivity to the soldier level. We are trying to get those guys the networking capability to do their job," said Mehney. "We are lifting the TRADOC requirement for connectivity down to those lower levels. This is still in a developmental stage and we have a lot of coordinating to do."

The Army plans to develop a Manpack-Network Integration Kit (M-NIK) that an individual soldier can carry to connect nodes on the battlefield; the technology will synch with and draw from several systems already in development such as the JTRS Handheld Manpack Small (HMS) portable radio systems. The soldier centered M-NIKs will include a router and JTRS radio able to connect forces through a terrestrial network and satellite link.

"We are working with PEO soldier and Ground Soldier System and Land Warrior folks to bring in those programs and make sure they are in synch. JTRS HMS brings a wealth of waveforms --- some long range terrestrial waveforms like SRW [Soldier Radio Waveform] as well as UHF Satcom which could connect two clouds around the world through MUOS [Mobile User Objective System]," Carrick said.

The idea is to build a portable NIK for the individual soldier.

"There would be a router with the soldier -- kitted into an ensemble that is on his body," said Carrick.

"The number one priority is to get information down to the soldier who needs it the most the guy who is kicking down the door and pulling the trigger. The second is to connect network clouds that are separated by terrain or distance. The third is the get information into the TOC [Tactical Operations Center]."

The success of the effort will be expedited by the use of a new Common Controller device that can simultaneously link and distribute feeds from robots, UAVs and remote sensors.

"Right now we have gateways that we are using to connect the sensors to the NIK. For controlling all of the unmanned systems we have several different controllers out there. We are trying to accelerate the Common Controller to bring it into BCT number four," Carrick said.

The Common Controller and the M-NIK were already demonstrated last summer and last month White Sands Missile Range, NM.

"We will continue to do excursions through this summer's events. The Common Controller that can handle a UAS and SUGV and the Tactical Unmanned Ground Sensors. One controller can control all of those things and serve as a relay to bring the sensor data back into the Network Integration Kit," he said.

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