The U.S. Army's semi-annual network tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., are spurring soldiers to adopt new tactics for the battlefield, officials said.
The so-called Network Integration Evaluations give troops the opportunity to test new radios, smart phone-like devices, satellite communications networks, software and other gear in a combat-like environment, the officials said. They're helping to refine the service's so-called tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs, for using the technology, they said.
“Over the last few NIEs, the network has become much more stable than it was -- so we are able to get at the TTPs and figure out mission command and do all that kind of stuff much more now than we have in the past, when we were really just trying to figure out the architecture,” Col. Beth Bierden, chief of the Network Integration Division at Brigade Modernization Command, said in an interview.
For instance, a new tactic was developed for soldiers using Nett Warrior, a smart-phone like device that displays maps with icons showing the position of forces, as well as nearby terrain and other combat-relevant intelligence, Bierden said.
“Soldiers love the Nett Warrior,” she said.
The program links troops using a handheld device called the Rifleman Radio, a single-channel radio that transmits voice and data communications running a high-bandwidth software package called Soldier Radio Waveform, or SRW.
“They call it tethering where they can give a team leader direction over Nett Warrior and do so without having to issue orders or talk to them,” Bierden said.
Tethering allows users of the system to send so-called “graphic control measures,” essentially icons imposed over a digital map showing where units are in relation to surrounding terrain, obstacles or enemy forces, Bierden said.
“From the platoon leader talking to the squad leaders and the team leaders, they call this leaving ‘bread crumbs’ -- where they could put graphic control measures down and leave their intent," she said. "The whole platoon could see them down to the platoon leader level and really do TTPs regarding how that platoon works together using the Nett Warrior," she said. "Working through these TTPs is giving all kinds of capability that did not exist before.”
The technology allows troops to make mission adjustments more quickly and efficiently, Bierden said.
“That whole platoon leadership is seeing the same picture on their Nett Warrior device as they are moving toward the objective or doing a search," she said. "That platoon leader can really direct his squads and teams wherever they want to go."
With another system called Warfighter Information Network – Tactical Increment 2, or WIN-T, commanders were able to communicate while driving in armored trucks and other combat vehicles at a level that's normally reserved for tactical operations centers.
The system is a mobile satellite communications and radio network engineered to integrate with tactical vehicles such as armored trucks, known as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected – All Terrain Vehicles, or M-ATVs. It includes antennas and, in some cases, a small satellite dish mounted onto vehicles, giving commanders the ability to chat with other commanders, as well as digital maps and intelligence information, Bierden said.
The network system uses an application called Command Post of the Future, or CPOF, a constantly updated display showing pertinent combat and intelligence data. The application gives commanders the ability to lead missions while stopped or moving.
The system is designed to be "self-healing," meaning it can switch between a satellite connection to high-band radio as needed if, for instance, a line-of-sight connection is interrupted by terrain.
During testing, commanders had a soldier monitor the flow of data and alert the commander as needed, said Rickey Smith, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center – Forward.
“There is a lot of complexity and challenge to mission command on the move," he said. "A commander’s got a lot going on. He’s got to know where his elements are and at the same time know what the enemy is doing. You have to manage the data elements in real time. One solution was to have another soldier take on the monitoring of the data and manage the data so that the commander is not stuck to the screen."
After installing the second version of the system on wheeled vehicles, the Army plans to configure numerous tracked vehicles with the technology, Smith said.
The Army is developing another tactic to better unify operations and intelligence data, Bierden said. While much of the transitional work with this is still ongoing, the effort will more fully fuse technologies such as CPOF with the Army’s intelligence database called Distributed Common Ground System – Army, or DCGS.
This effort involves moving toward what Bierden referred to as a web or cloud-based common operating environment, or COE. The term refers to a common set of standards so that emerging and new technologies can better integrate with existing systems. The effort will also integrate a host of web-applications and move operational and intelligence data onto a single server, she added.
The next evaluation, called 14.1 and slated for October of this year, will likely advance this effort in a substantial way, Bierden said.
“The TTPs will get better and they will be better integrated," she said. "We’re moving a lot of these operational applications onto one server to the intel standard, so that everything is integrated."
Much of this gear is part of what the Army calls Capability Set 13, a suite of integrated networking technologies slated to deploy to Afghanistan this summer with the service’s 10th Mountain Division. Developers stay in close communication with the operational units receiving the gear so as to continually inform and refine TTPs, Bierden said.
“We will learn more TTPs from them [10th Mountain] and then incorporate that back into the process,” she said.