Beginning in October, the U.S. Army will begin fielding its long-awaited battlefield communications network along with a related suite of smartphones, software-enabled radios and communications gear to two Afghanistan-bound brigade combat teams.
The network — and its ability to link dismounted soldiers with higher headquarters — is already considered a huge leap in land warfare.
But a June 15 memo from the Army’s System of Systems Integration Directorate, obtained by Defense News, shows just how big a leap that will be.
On May 3, the document states, the Army’s LandWarNet/Mission Command called for a closer alignment between Army network modernization and the services’ vehicle modernization efforts. The brief “request[ed] approval for a re-alignment initiative to synchronize vehicle and network fielding plans that will lead to a comprehensive Army Network and platform equipping and fielding strategy.”
Integrating the backbone Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) with the Army’s vehicle fleet is critical, since the network lacks compatibility with all ground vehicle platforms. Integration on the Bradley fighting vehicle and the Abrams tank has been famously difficult.
In order to accomplish this, “the Army will adjust capability set [CS] fielding timelines, quantities and resources. This change will affect multiple [Army acquisition logistics and technology] program executive offices and product managers.”
The current CS 13 fielding plan calls for equipping three infantry brigade combat teams (IBCTs) — the 3rd and 4th brigade combat teams from the 10th Mountain Division slated to deploy to Afghanistan in 2013, as well as the already fielded set to 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division — followed by three IBCT training sets for units that will deploy to Afghanistan later.
There is also “a unique mission-tailored set to Korea” in the pipeline, according to the document. Brig. Gen. John Morrison, director of the Army’s LandWarNet/Mission Command, said the Korean deployment will come in “mid to late ‘13,” and is on the schedule because “they’ve got some operational requirements for mission command on the move that Capability Set 13 is uniquely postured to provide.”
Following problems integrating the network with Bradleys and Abrams tanks, the Army has been working though various space and vehicle power issues as part of the ramp-up to the next network integration exercise this fall.
The service did operate some Bradleys and Abrams with limited networking capability at the most recent network integration exercise this spring, said Col. Dan Hughes, director of the System of Systems Integration Directorate. While preparing for the exercise this fall, Hughes said the service is trying to find a way to use all of the capabilities the network provides “with that cramped space with limited power” available on the two platforms.
“We’re looking at each aspect of the radio set and the waveforms to see what makes sense to go inside that tank and Bradley to provide that mission command capability” to commanders, Hughes added.
While CS 13 will be focused on mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, the Army is limiting the number of capability sets it plans to field to Humvee-heavy IBCTs, since the service will no longer take the vehicle to war after the drawdown in Afghanistan is complete. The Army is also waiting for network-ready joint light tactical vehicles to begin arriving in 2017, as the vehicle will replace the Humvee in war-fighting formations.
Aside from the MRAP, the Army will also focus its near-term energies on wiring the Stryker to play a large role in future CS 13 fieldings, since some variants of the double-V hull have proved robust enough to operate the network. The service plans to field capability sets to three Stryker brigades per year from 2014 to 2016, in addition to two or three IBCTs per year while upgrading MRAPs in Army prepositioned stocks.
Meanwhile, the plan for CS 14 is beginning to take shape. Morrison said that since this spring’s evaluations validated the integrated network baseline — meaning that the network worked — the Army will begin looking at ways to more deeply integrate for the fall event the different networks and systems that have been developed separately.
“We have some stovepiped networks out there,” Morrison said, stressing that the focus will involve taking a look at the command-and-control network and the intelligence network in order to begin merging them into a common infrastructure.
“In the fall we’re going to start doing a technical analysis of that, and next spring we’ll do an operational assessment, once we’ve worked out the technical bugs,” Morrison said.
“Convergence of systems is going to be a common theme I think you’ll hear the Army talking about. Whether it’s moving through the common operating environment converging those software baselines ... or converging the many disparate [network operations] tools that we have out there so we can much more efficiently manage and operate the network, or converging the separate stovepiped networks,” the work moving forward will be to get all oars rowing in unison.
Morrison said the spring evaluations proved out the WIN-T Increment 2 network, which for the first time allowed soldiers from the tactical level on up to brigade headquarters to send images, data, video and voice messages while on the move. “Now that we’ve got this integration network baseline established, we’re really learning what it means to conduct operations with it,” he said.
Having a brigade-size operational assessment from which to pull lessons learned is invaluable, Morrison said, since it provides the units deploying to Afghanistan “recommendations on how you really fight this capability, and what are the operational benefits it can provide.”
Not only will some soldiers from the 2/1 be assigned to the 10th Mountain Division for the Afghanistan deployment to assist with training, but since the gear itself has already been employed in an operational venue, it allows those soldiers to say “here’s what it did for us, and here’s how it modified how we conducted operations. It’s pretty powerful.”