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Network test on mine resistant vehicles

Jun 16, 2010

By Drew Hamilton

Technicians on White Sands Missile Range are installing special communications systems into armored vehicles in preparation for a test later this year.

Members of Program Executive Office - Integration are equipping Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles with Network Integration Kits at the Network Synchronization Center on WSMR. These vehicles will be used in the next Limited User Test this year. The NIK is a special package of computers and communications gear that connects to other Army systems and forms a wireless network, allowing Soldiers to both control various unmanned systems and share information with other Soldiers.

Vehicles that are being equipped with the NIKs include: the MRAP All Terrain Vehicle, a high mobility all terrain MRAP similar in purpose to the Humvee; the MaxxPro Base, a medium sized MRAP; the MaxxPro Dash, a lighter faster version of the MaxxPro Base; the Caiman Base, an MRAP based on the Army's medium tactical vehicle requirements; and the Caiman Plus, a variant of the Caiman with more armor.

In total, a dozen of these armored vehicles will be needed for the test. A couple more will be kept in reserve in the event that a vehicle is damaged beyond repair. "If the NIK breaks, we'll fix it. If we have, (for example), a transmission blow out, that's not something we can easily fix. That's why we have (spare MRAPs), so we can just swap them out and have the test item back in play within hours," said Jerry Tyree, director of WSMR Operations at the Network Synchronization Center.

Installing this complex array of communication gear has required that WSMR personnel work quickly in order to make sure that enough vehicles are ready for use when large scale testing begins. "We received the first MATV Jan. 19 and we had to have it ready for integration by March 22. So we basically had only six weeks to get it ready," Tyree said. A combination of civilians, contractors and active duty personnel have been working in order to meet the tight deadlines needed for the vehicles to be ready in time. Much of the work done to prepare these systems and get them installed is being conducted by WSMR personnel instead of Department of Defense level contractors. "We did the design and trades... and then fabricated all the components in house here at WSMR," Tyree said. Tyree explained that their designs will be passed on to the Space and Naval Warfare Center, who will be doing the integration of the finalized production version of the NIK for the first brigade level deployment of the system. Tyree thinks that although some minor adjustments will need to be made, the majority of his team's designs will become the standard. "They are probably going to use 85 to 90 percent of our design," Tyree said.

Unlike lighter unarmored vehicles, certain restrictions must be applied to the technicians installing the NIKs, to ensure that the vehicles maintain their ability to survive and protect the occupants from IED attacks and similar threats. One such restriction is ensuring that the cabin of the vehicle remains a sealed environment to protect its occupants from the effects of a bomb's concussive blast. "That vehicle is a sealed vessel... so you can't just go drilling holes in it," Tyree said. Using only existing access points used by other systems already present on the MRAPs, the PEO-I personnel had to find a way to run the NIKs additional cables into the cabin. Doing this provides the Soldiers with a properly accessible interface to control the NIKs externally mounted computers and communications. Active duty personnel have been supporting the installation by providing the technicians with their knowledge of the needs of the war fighter, including a liaison from the US Marine Corps, one of the non-US army forces that have expressed interest in the system. "Sgt. Jonathan Pelletier provided some of the Soldier perspective on the location of things. He and Master Sgt. Larry Floyd and Sgt. 1st Class Summerlin have gone above and beyond what they were originally brought here to do," Tyree said.

The test is expected to begin this summer, with the vehicles taking part in test exercises in various locations on WSMR and Fort Bliss. Along with the NIK equipped MRAPs, unmanned sensors and vehicles will also be tested. "That's what the NIK does, it ties all these (systems) together," Tyree said. This will be one of the final series of tests for this set of equipment with expectations that the Army will be able to deploy a unit equipped with these systems by 2012.

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