Army's mobile comm system gains field experience before NIE

This spring the Army’s long in-development mobile communications system will undergo its largest mobile networking test. At White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and across several bases in the South and Southwest, units will conduct operations and communicate with each other over the system. This will be among the last set of major evaluations before the mobile vehicle part of the program is cleared for full deployment, according to Army officials.

But before its big deployment test at the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.2, the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) will have had some field test experience from the NIE 12.1 held in fall 2011. That feedback will help the program’s managers to better prepare and plan for the upcoming key event. Among the lessons learned from the fall NIE was the need for auxiliary power sources, hands-on experience and better pre-event network and spectrum planning, said Army COL Edward Swanson, WIN-T’s project manager.

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Soldier feedback indicated that the WIN-T equipped vehicles required backup power supply. Without backup, the vehicles had to constantly run their engines to power the equipment, Swanson said. This allowed the vehicles to operate with their engines shut off, which saves fuel, he said.

Power and fuel considerations are important because the Increment 2 “A kits” will be installed on mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) all-terrain vehicles (MATVs) that place weight, size and power requirements on the equipment, Swanson said. Recent exercises saw WIN-T systems installed on MATVS and future iterations will be installed on Bradley and Stryker fighting vehicles. Networking was another lesson learned from the exercise, especially the need to deconflict spectrum management and security issues before the event; otherwise, problems might arise during the exercise, Swanson said.

One of the key functions the WIN-T vehicles performed during the most recent NIE is mission command-on-the-move, said Army LTC Robert Collins, product manager for WIN-T Increment 2. The exercise provided needed hands-on experience and tactics and procedures for commanders to understand what types of data they will need from the system. There also are human issues as the recent exercises exposed ergonomic problems in the layout of the equipment inside the vehicles. The goal for the next NIE is to develop an optimum layout to make operating the equipment easier while the vehicle is moving, he said.

The last NIE saw a part of a brigade operating with 13 WIN-T equipped MATVs. There were no WIN-T unique operations in that NIE, but the vehicles supported a variety of mobile operations such as a company operating in the mountains of the White Sands Missile Range supporting dismounted troops over a range of 100 kilometers. The vehicles’ communications were mostly used to support artillery fire support missions, Collins said.

The spring 2012 NIE slated for May and June will be the largest test of a WIN-T network to date. Over 18 days, the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division’s combat team will use some 70 WIN-T Increment 2 equipped vehicles to connect its units across the White Sands Missile Range. It will also link to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., and to a hub network at Fort Gordon, Ga., to connect back into the Global Information Grid, Collins said.


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