A new military ground terminal intended to increase the access deployed troops have to satellite communications while they are on the move cleared a key testing milestone last month, giving the U.S. Army and the industry team developing the hardware confidence that they can deliver the hardware earlier than initially planned.

The prototype version of the Warfighter Information Network — Tactical (WIN-T) performed “flawlessly” during the demonstrations, according to Army Col. Angel Colon, WIN-T project manager at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. The demonstrations, which were conducted for senior Army and industry officials, took place at Fort Huachuca in Arizona from Nov. 3-18.

The WIN-T system is being built by an industry team led by General Dynamics C4 Systems of Taunton, Mass., and Lockheed Martin Mission Systems of Colorado Springs, Colo. That contract is worth about $7 billion through 2018.

Those two companies initially competed for the contract, but the Army stopped the competition in September 2004 and allowed them to join together to speed deployment and better synchronize development with other programs that will heavily rely on WIN-T, including the Future Combat System. The Future Combat System is a fleet of relatively lightweight combat vehicles linked by space and airborne systems.

The Army envisions WIN-T as a communication system that will help troops on the battlefield plug into the Pentagon’s information networks through satellite, airborne and terrestrial links, even while they are on the move.

The initial plan for WIN-T called for delivery of the terminals to begin in 2009, but operations in Iraq and Afghanistan led the Army to ask the team to examine the possibility of delivering the terminals earlier, said Bill Weiss, vice president for tactical networks at General Dynamics C4 Systems.

Based on testing results, General Dynamics believes that WIN-T can “provide immediate benefit to soldiers,” Weiss said. The terminals could be ready as early as 2007, he said.

The November testing included live communications and simulated traffic fed into the system, according to a Dec. 1 Army news release.

Soldiers from the Army’s 11th Signal Brigade operated the prototype hardware after a two-week training course. The testing ran through a variety of scenarios including electronic attacks where hackers attempted to introduce viruses into WIN-T’s computers and deny troops use of the system.

John Martin, General Dynamics vice president and general manager for C4 Systems’ communication networks division, said that the demonstrations also indicated that the WIN-T network can operate in concert with a variety of systems including an existing set of Army satellite terminals known as the Joint Network Node (JNN), which troops primarily use for communications while stationary.

The JNN terminals were fielded by the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in October 2004, and have performed well in combat in Iraq over the past year, according to Bob Wilson, JNN deputy product manager at Fort Monmouth. Those terminals are built by General Dynamics.

The Army is fielding around 100 JNN terminals to seven of its 10 divisions by 2007, Wilson said. The service had planned to conduct a competition to outfit its other three divisions with JNN terminals, and Northrop Grumman Corp. announced Nov. 17 that it had put together an industry team to compete for that work.

Jim Hardin, a director of business development for Northrop Grumman Mission Systems in Reston, Va., said that the company has significant experience that makes it well suited to building JNN terminals.

This experience includes building the Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below system, which relies on signals from navigation and communications satellites to track friendly forces and helped troops in Iraq avoid fratricide, as well as handling the network management work for the Future Combat System, makes it well suited to building the additional JNN terminals.

However, the competition for the additional JNN terminals is now on hold for multiple reasons, Wilson said. The Army has fielded JNN terminals in sufficient quantities to trigger Pentagon regulations that require it to conduct operational-style testing of the equipment that closely mimics performance on the battlefield, despite the fact that is has performed well in Iraq over the past year, Wilson said.

In addition, the strong performance of the WIN-T system during the testing last month increases confidence within the service that WIN-T may be available earlier than initially planned, and could take the place of additional JNN purchases, Wilson said.

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