WASHINGTON — If all goes according to plan, one day soon the U.S. Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), the main thrust of its communication and sensor modernization effort, will cease to exist.
The service’s plans call for the backbone of the effort, the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, to pass its initial operational test and evaluation this month at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in preparation for its fielding to several Afghanistan-bound brigade combat teams this fall. And with that, the “network” part of the evaluation will be over.
The NIE will be gone in name only. There is no set date for the change, but Army representatives have said it will likely be called the Capabilities Integration Evaluation or something similar.
The coming name change reflects the Army’s plans to continue using its new agile procurement effort for modernizing soldier equipment, in which the service defines capability gaps and asks industry to offer nondevelopmental solutions for evaluation.
Until the WIN-T network passes these latest tests, however, the NIE will continue to revolve around proving out the network’s capabilities. Much of the scenario for the ongoing NIE 12.2 exercise, in fact, was driven by requirements for the initial operational test and evaluation.
The scenario unfolding in the New Mexico desert has the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division conducting a brigade-sized attack against several objectives, while using the satellite-based WIN-T to report to division headquarters, which in this case is the 101st Airborne Division operating out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
“This is the third in the series [of NIEs], and each one has become progressively more difficult,” said Col. Dave Miller of the Brigade Modernization Command. “11.2 was platoon and company based, 12.1 was a company operation under battalion control, and this is now a battalion operation under brigade control, with the 101st Airborne Division controlling the fight.”
The battlefield measures 275 kilometers by 53 kilometers, and includes more than 4,000 soldiers and civilians fighting the armed forces and guerrilla units of the notional country of Attica. Two other virtual flanking brigades will send simulated data traffic through the network.
Standing over a map in his tactical operations center April 26, Col. Dan Pinnell, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, said the unit would execute a brigade-size attack about 75 kilometers north of its staging area, at a target that contained a mix of transnational terrorists along with a mechanized force from an invading country.
“We will do a classic brigade attack, and once we’ve cleared the two villages, we will transition to stability tasks until told to continue further north” by division headquarters, he said.
This is not the first time that Pinnell’s soldiers will have evaluated the WIN-T Increment 2, which allows the brigade to stay in constant contact while on the move, with everyone from fire teams up to division headquarters. But it will be the first time that each battalion headquarters will “jump” with the troops, moving locations at least two times over the course of the next month.
Pinnell will command from his customized Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV), which is outfitted with the latest mission command-on-the-move technologies to give him access to both wireless voice communications and multiple maps and communications technologies.
“I had that vehicle in 12.1, but there were communications and reliability problems,” Pinnell said. “This time, I’m seeing much higher reliability. … Right now, I can hop on that [Voice over Internet Protocol] phone and call the division commander, whereas before, I’d have to get on a radio,” and bounce the signal across various nodes. “Now I call them direct.”
In last fall’s exercise, WIN-T “was completely unreliable, but my connection now is almost perfect,” Pinnell said. “I haven’t dropped a call yet and have a significant increase in reliability.”
The only downside Pinnell said he has experienced is that his command vehicle has only a single computer screen, instead of several, forcing him to open up multiple windows and toggle between them during operations, which can be distracting.
“I need a single map, not four different maps; I need high-quality mapping,” Pinnell said, as well as the ability to see historic data about populated areas he is about to enter.
Pinnell said ideally he would like to have an iPad-like device that can be taken out of the vehicle so that he is not tied down to his truck.
An Army spokesman said the service’s engineers are building that capability for the 13.1 NIE in the fall.
Much of the information Pinnell will receive in his M-ATV can be found in tactical operation centers in Afghanistan. But instead of tying the brigade commander to his headquarters, the mission command-on-the-move technology in his M-ATV will “collapse all of the boxes and put it in the truck in front of me,” Pinnell said.
The White Sands effort is aimed at proving out WIN-T as well as evaluating technologies for Capability Set 13, which is being prepared to deploy with brigade combat teams later this year.
Capability Set 13 will act as a bridge network that establishes the baseline for future iterations of the network.
WIN-T Increment 2 is the wireless communications backbone of the entire effort, and the first sets are also scheduled to include the Joint Tactical Radio System Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit channel radio developed by General Dynamics; the Secure Mobile Anti-Jam Reliable Tactical Terminal, which allows soldiers to extend the range of their network while protecting against jamming and interception; Nett Warrior, which comprises the Rifleman Radio connected to an “end user device” (otherwise known as a smartphone); and mission command-on-the-move capabilities.
Overall, there are three systems under test, 35 systems under evaluation and seven more systems under demonstration.
A major focus of the NIE will be on the competition for the Soldier Radio Waveform Appliqué contract, which will be for 5,000 single-channel, vehicle-mounted radios that will bridge the gap between dismounted soldiers and higher echelons of command. General Dynamics, Harris, ITT Exelis and a team of Raytheon and Cobham have submitted systems for evaluation.