ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The US Army is reconfiguring its tactical network nodes currently on 5-ton vehicles into a smaller package in order to fit onto Humvees, according to Lt. Col. LaMont Hall, the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical product manager.
The service is fielding its second increment of WIN-T, taking a system that could only provide connectivity at the halt and giving it an on-the-move capability. The network is connected via line-of-sight nodes positioned around the battlefield along with satellite connectivity.
But WIN-T, which requires a lot of moving parts on vehicles from routers to radio antennas to bring the network to life on the move, can only fit on larger vehicles.
"The value of that is our early entry forces like the 82nd, the 10th Mountain and the 101st all want a capability that they can bring in on an aircraft or sling-load on a helicopter," he said. "It's smaller, lighter and more easily deployed, and that is what this capability will bring."
The WIN-T nodes on Humvees will provide basic communication and networking equipment with line-of-sight and satellite communications both on the move and at the halt and will better serve missions that require quick reaction, according to Hall.
The plan is to test the smaller version of WIN-T on a Humvee at the Network Integration Exercise in May 2017 and then the Army will start to field the new capability it's calling the Tactical Communications Node Lite (TCN) and the Network Operations and Security Center Lite (NOSC).
The Army is building these WIN-T vehicles now, having already awarded the contract to General Dynamics and passed through the critical design review phase, Hall said.
The first low-rate production quantities — one NOSC and eight TCNs, enough for an entire brigade combat team — will be completed in the next four to six months. As the Army prepares to demonstrate the new WIN-T equipped Humvees at the spring Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) in 2017, it will put the systems through rigorous internal testing, according to Hall.
The WIN-T program office also has worked to improve the network in other ways from usability to reliability, Hall said. The number one priority, he said, is reducing the complexity of the system at every level.
The Army partnered with Microsoft over the last six months to develop the Rapid Vehicle Provisioning System (RVPS), which at a basic level means the workload to configure a vehicle's WIN-T system is reduced drastically.
"Everything you see in these racks, what is on a vehicle, routers, switches, servers, you've got displays, satellite modems, radio antennas and modems, and all of that is on one vehicle," Hall said. "Today it takes a soldier hours and hours and hours to be able to load all the software, load all the configurations, connect to the satellite, stand up the line-of-sight network, load eight servers, four routers, two switches and a satellite modem."
Hall said with Microsoft the Army has built a system where "we've connected everything together with a gigabit Ethernet connection. A soldier with one laptop can then plug into that vehicle and with one button, he hits configure, and everything is configured in the background."
The new system was tested at NIE 16.1 with 18 vehicles as a proof of concept and "it worked," Hall said. At the next NIE in May 2016, the Army plans to configure an entire brigade combat team using the system. If all goes well, the service will begin fielding the capability.
The process speeds up the time it takes to set up WIN-T vehicles from 24 hours to two hours. Configuring an entire brigade with 70-plus vehicles can take four people and three weeks to complete. Configuring an entire brigade with the new system will take four days and potentially even just two days, Hall said.
RVPS also will streamline and simplify troubleshooting procedures, automatically identifying in thousands of lines of code where a software glitch might lie, Hall said. Fixing the system is easy: A user deletes the old software and then reloads the standard software. If it's a hardware problem, the old hardware can be swapped out and the software easily loaded onto the new hardware, Hall explained.
"I want every soldier to be able to fix the network. I don't need engineers, I don't want to have to have PhDs … to fix the network," he said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.