ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND -- As the U.S. mission in Afghanistan changes and forces conduct more dispersed operations, new tactical communications equipment for vehicles at the company level will help extend the network over vast distances to keep Soldiers connected and commanders informed. Currently installed on mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicles, as part of the Army's mobile Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, Increment 2 network, the Soldier Network Extension, or SNE, will extend the network down to the company level for the first time. With this "extension," company formations can now be geographically dispersed across large distances, away from their battalion headquarters, and still retain the network connectivity and situational awareness needed to command from disparate locations.
"Having the SNE down at the company level facilitates the dissemination of real-time situational awareness throughout the entire maneuver brigade combat team formation by restoring lower tactical internet (TI) radio networks, sometimes limited by distance or terrain features," said Lt. Col. Lamont Hall, product manager for WIN-T Increment 2. "It's critical to keep those lower TI radio networks connected into the network and ensure commanders can see and understand what is happening on the battlefield."
The SNE's extension capability will benefit the Army as the U.S. mission in Afghanistan changes to a support role in helping the Afghans secure their country. As coalition forces reduce their presence, forward operating bases and fixed sites once used to access the network are being dismantled. As part of the mobile WIN-T Increment 2 network, the SNE for the first time provides lower echelons with the mission critical network reach-back to the Army's Global Information Grid, the worldwide set of interconnected equipment and services that enable Soldiers to access the information they need, when they need it. The SNE's Combat Net Radio extension takes advantage of the vehicle's on-the-move satellite communication, or SATCOM, systems to help keep lower TI radio networks connected, even when they are blocked by terrain features such as mountains. It also extends these lower TI radio networks, which include the Soldier Radio Waveform, Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, and Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System. The virtually unlimited distance of the SNE's on-the-move SATCOM capabilities enables select elements to extend their data links as far as the mission requires.
Positioned at the company level, the SNE can help pass critical information from lower echelons up to higher headquarters, and vice versa. This two-way flow of information provides commanders at all levels with real-time situational awareness, decreasing the time it takes to make decisions and improving the foundations on which those decisions are made.
The WIN-T Increment 2 SNE also provides company-level Soldiers with advanced collaboration and on-the-move situational awareness tools once only available at higher echelons, providing agility to their operations. Company commanders on the move can now collaborate with voice phone calls, hold battle update briefs, access email over the Army's secret network and exchange planning files and documents. They can also use a chat room, one of the Army's primary forms of battlefield communications.
"By giving me [the SNE] you are enabling me to do a lot more work on my own from wherever I am," said Capt. William Branch, a company commander for 2/1 AD. "Before I had to go to the company or to the battalion [command post] to access those services. Now I can access them right from my vehicle. Giving me those services is enabling me and my platoon leaders to do a much better job and operate within my commander's intent."
WIN-T Increment 2 is being fielded as part of the Army's capability sets, or CS. CS 13 is the first of these fully-integrated fielding efforts, which are scalable and tailorable in design to support the changing requirements of current and future missions. CS 13 includes radios, satellite systems, software applications, smartphone-like devices and other network components that provide connectivity from the stationary command post to the commander on the move to the dismounted Soldier. WIN-T Increment 2 is the tactical communications network backbone that binds the capability sets together. The situational awareness and network extension capabilities of the WIN-T Increment 2 SNE provide a vital link to the CS 13 architecture. WIN-T Increment 2 improves upon the network's first increment, which began fielding in 2004, by providing Soldiers with high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications, accessible on the move. It utilizes both satellite and line-of-sight capability for optimum network connectivity and bandwidth efficiency, and its self-healing capability automatically reroutes blocked links so information gets through. Other WIN-T Increment 2 configuration items include the Point of Presence, or PoP, which is installed on select vehicles at battalion and above, and enables mobile mission command. A few years ago it may have taken several hours or even days for the brigade commander to see and understand the details that his patrols had seen on the battlefield. But now the commander can talk to his leaders on a conference call while on the move inside a networked PoP or SNE vehicle. They can share information and share what they are seeing on the battlefield in real time, said Col. Sam Whitehurst, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during recent training exercises in preparation for his unit's possible deployment to Afghanistan. "The quicker and more responsive we are in sharing information, [the more] it allows me to gain situational understanding," Whitehurst said. "That speed and that ability to quickly share information is critical."