Army testing command post Wi-Fi

Army testing command post Wi-Fi

Typically, moving a command post to outmaneuver adversaries or avoid attacks involves hours of network disassembly, following by the reinstallation of thousands of feet of cabling – all of which took time that had to be factored into battle plans.  But by switching to a wireless networking, this transition can take only minutes.

“Commanders actually had to weigh the option of jumping because it would take too long to reestablish command and control,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Dail, brigade communications officer for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division – the operational unit for the Army's Network Integration Evaluations, or NIEs. "Wi-Fi makes the command post much more defensible.”

Wired command post networks involve 17 boxes of 1,000-foot CAT 5 cable weighing 255 pounds, which have to be cut, laid out, configured and plugged in, the Army said.  Without Wi-Fi, command posts must be assembled in phases, which includes tent infrastructure, generators, network servers and satellite shots following the establishment of local area networks.  “Command post wireless will definitely reduce that, so there is a huge advantage for us,” Dail said.

"Now, right after the tents go up, units can turn on the Wi-Fi 'hotspot' and bam! They have a LAN," said Lt. Col. Joel Babbitt, product manager for WIN-T Increment 1.  "So instead of your network coming up last, now it comes up first. Meaning that instead of network communications being restored several hours after jumping to a new location, a unit has it within the first hour after arriving. That's enabling maneuver. Wireless reduces a unit's most vulnerable time period."

Recently, during the NIE 15.2 at Fort Bliss in Texas, the Army demonstrated how a battalion-sized element – numbering between 500 and 600 soldiers – could move an unclassified wireless command post.  The Army’s next demonstration will take place this fall during the NIE 16.1, in which a full brigade – between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers or three or more battalions – will showcase classified and unclassified command post wireless capabilities.

These wireless capabilities will be fielded into units under the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, Increment 1.     

Additionally, the Army has begun testing vehicular mounted radios that can provide secure and reliable ground-level communications independent of satellites.  The mid-tier networking vehicular radios, or MNVRs, can provide rapid exchange of voice messages, images and video with commanders.  Its technical make-up consists of Wideband Networking Waveform and Soldier Radio Waveform, operating as a node to hop from one MNVR to another until it reaches its destination, according to an Army release.

The MNVRs also underwent tests at NIE 15.2.  The MNVR is essentially a high-bandwidth networking radio that now uses line-of-sight communications waveforms to link soldiers at the company level with battalion and brigade providing ground-level connectivity.  "The fact that you have the ability to push data back out from locations in the field and graphically get that information back to higher headquarters -- who has the expertise to examine it and potentially get information back to the Soldiers while they're still on the ground so they can react -- is a game changer," Dail said.

As with the wireless command posts, the MNVR will be tested for integration with WIN-T.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.


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