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Soldiers prep for onset of second increment of Army network

February 13, 2012

By Amy Walker, PEO C3T

Fort Bliss, TX -- In preparation for the upcoming Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 operational test, Soldiers recently began training on the system's new equipment, setting the stage for the arrival of an on-the-move network that reaches all the way down to the company level.

"WIN-T Increment 2 will provide a number of transformational capabilities for the Army's tactical communications network," said LTC Robert Collins, Product Manager for WIN-T Increments 2 and 3. "This training is the first step in readiness for the operational test and our first opportunity to thoroughly train the Soldiers and give them all the right field tests to be able to operate and deploy the network."

Soldiers began the 10-week New Equipment Training (NET) in January in advance of the WIN-T Increment 2 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E), scheduled for May. The NET is being held at multiple locations including Fort Bliss, TX with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) and Fort Campbell, KY, with the 101st Airborne Division.

The WIN-T Increment 2 IOT&E will be held in conjunction with the Army's Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.2, where it will be participating as a System Under Test (SUT). The analysis and test results from this strenuous three week IOT&E will be used in the Full Rate Production Decision, scheduled for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2012.

"The IOT&E will be the first opportunity to make an assessment of the suitability and effectiveness of the WIN-T Increment 2 system with an operational unit," Collins said. "It gives the Army valuable feedback to make any needed doctrinal, material or training improvements before the system is fielded."

Similar to a home Internet connection, WIN-T Increment 1 provides Soldiers with high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to units at battalion level, with Soldiers having only to pull over to the side of the road to communicate. WIN-T Increment 2 introduces numerous additional capabilities including an on-the-move communications network that reaches down to the company echelon for the first time.

Since the WIN-T Increment 2 network is self-forming and self-healing, it provides a new level of flexibility to support changing mission requirements. Not only does it add on-the-move communications capabilities down to the company level, but it will also allow combat net radio and data networks to be extended beyond-line-of-sight. An initial Network Operations (NETOPS) capability will also be fielded to facilitate the planning, initialization, monitoring, management and response of the network. Additionally, the WIN-T Increment 2's "colorless core" will provide an enhanced level of communications security.

"The power of WIN-T Increment 2 lies in its integrated terrestrial and satellite communications (SATCOM) network," said COL Edward Swanson, Project Manager (PM) for WIN-T. "Being able to command the battlespace securely and effectively while on-the-move, despite terrain obstructions, will transform how the Army operates and significantly increase mission success."

WIN-T Increment 2 is a major upgrade to the tactical communications backbone and a critical piece of Capability Set 13, which is the first integrated group of network technologies out of the NIE process that will be fielded to up to eight brigade combat teams starting in fiscal year 2013.

"[WIN-T Increment 2] makes everything accessible on the go, so it doesn't lock you down to one area,'" said SPC Allison Ferrone, a Soldier from 2/1 AD at NIE 12.1. "If you're out on a mission and you need to relay information back, you can do that. Even if you need to get briefed from people at the Tactical Operations Center, you can get that information to you, and it's real time."

NIE 12.1, which wrapped up in November 2011, gave the Army a unique opportunity to evaluate WIN-T Increment 2 in an operational environment approximately six months before its IOT&E. Soldiers took the system for a test drive to evaluate its performance and provide valuable feedback well before the normal test cycle, enabling the Army to smooth out any rough edges and better prepare it for the formal operational test in the spring, said COL (P) Dan Hughes, Director of Systems of Systems Integration for the Army.

"[PM WIN-T] is still going to go through its normal development, testing piece, but they've got a really good snapshot up front," Hughes said at NIE 12.1. "Every time you do [an operational test] you always find something. Why not find it earlier in the process?"

NIE 12.1 provided many valuable lessons-learned from Soldier input, enabling PM WIN-T to address and provide solutions prior to the IOT&E. The event also underscored the importance of performing as much of the network planning, integration and engineering as possible prior to the IOT&E to reduce risk and provide the foundation for a successful test.

"The NIE served as a good framework to bring a number of things together, to be able to assess how the various configuration settings, applications and other entities will behave within the construct of the network," Collins said.

NIE 12.1 provided the first opportunity in which WIN-T Increment 2 was installed and evaluated on Mine Resistant Ambush (MRAP) All Terrain Vehicles (MATV), instead of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, and going forward it will be also installed on Strykers and Bradley fighting vehicles. These vehicles pose unique challenges, including size, weight and power (SWaP) constraints, as well as considerations for other C4ISR equipment.

Lessons learned in 12.1 will impact the way Point of Presences (POP) and Soldier Network Extensions (SNE) are integrated into the platforms. The POP is the primary WIN-T Increment 2 configuration item that will be installed on the tactical combat platforms of select personnel at division, brigade and battalion echelons. It enables mobile battle command by providing secret level on-the-move network connectivity. Meanwhile, the SNE will extend the network down to the company level for the first time. Using its on-the-move satellite communication systems, the SNE will be used to heal and extend lower echelon tactical radio networks for geographically separated elements blocked by severe terrain features. NIE 12.1 also uncovered the need for an auxiliary power source for POPs and the SNEs to keep the vehicle's communications equipment running without wasting fuel.

The importance of training was also highlighted at NIE 12.1, especially considering that unlike WIN-T Increment 1, Increment 2 equipment will be maintained by non-signal corps Soldiers, so training needs to be user-friendly and simple to perform. In the same light, as the complexity of the network continues to increase, Network Operations for senior signal officers managing that network needs to be simplified, Swanson said.

"Every evaluation, every test brings us another step closer to putting WIN-T Increment 2 into the hands of the deployed Soldier on the battlefield," Swanson said. "Once there, it will provide our forces with an invaluable edge."

Amy Walker is a staff writer for Symbolic Systems, Inc. supporting the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T).

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