Army Tests Secure Wi-Fi for Future Battlefield

A 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division soldier demonstrates Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2 and Mission Command on the move applications during the Network Integration Evaluation 12.1, Nov. 18, 2011. (U.S. Army photo/Katie Cain)
A 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division soldier demonstrates Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2 and Mission Command on the move applications during the Network Integration Evaluation 12.1, Nov. 18, 2011. (U.S. Army photo/Katie Cain)

The U.S. Army recently field-tested Secure Wi-Fi technology in an effort to keep pace with the fast-moving world of battlefield communications.

The 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, successfully piloted the Wi-Fi capability during decisive action training at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, California, which concluded in November, according to a recent Army press release.

Each time the brigade command post relocated on the battlefield, the Wi-Fi tech made it possible for critical network and mission command systems to come online in minutes, rather than hours when soldiers had to wire a command post for network connectivity.

"The key benefit provided by Secure Wi-Fi is the velocity that it brings to [the set up of] my mission command systems," Col. Michael Adams, commander of 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, said in the release. "Near-peer adversaries are much more capable than enemies we trained against previously. In a decisive action training environment, [armed with Secure Wi-Fi], we are much faster and more mobile, and that equates to survivability."

In September, Army officials told frustrated members of Congress the service plans to stop buying the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical -- a $6 billion backbone of the service's tactical network -- and search for another system to deal with emerging threats.

After careful review, officials said that network no longer meets the needs of the maneuver force.

In December, the Army issued a Command Post Directed Requirement for the service to leverage wireless technology capabilities to facilitate rapid connectivity and displacement, according to the release.

Secure Wi-Fi is proving to be a vital element in the Army's acquisition of new, integrated expeditionary command posts solutions, Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager for Network Modernization who manages Secure Wi-Fi for the Army, said in the release. Henderson is a member of Project Manager Tactical Network, PEO C3T.

The directed requirement is closely nested with the draft Command Post Integrated Infrastructure, or CPI2, capability development document, which would create a new program of record to provide mobile command post solutions to corps, division, and Brigade Combat Teams, the release states.

"Lack of mobility and agility are amongst the biggest factors making today's large command posts vulnerable in near-peer threat environments," Henderson said in the release. "Secure Wi-Fi increases mobility and operational flexibility, and better enables mission command so commanders can do what they do best -- fight and win."

The unit successfully used Secure Wi-Fi to provide untethered network connections to enable secure wireless voice, video and data exchange on more than 60 unclassified computers and 100 classified computers and mission command systems, such as Command Post of the Future.

At any given point during this event, there were at least 60 active Secure Wi-Fi users inside the brigade main command post, known as the Tactical Operations Center, or TOC, Adams said.

Without wireless capability, establishing a network in a typical brigade command post takes many hours and requires dozens of boxes of expensive network cable that weigh hundreds of pounds, the release states.

Adams said he is looking forward to seeing Secure Wi-Fi eventually implemented at battalion-level command posts as well, to further increase his brigade's speed of maneuver, according to the release.

The Army has recently developed a smaller version that reduces the footprint of the server stacks by 60 percent, to support smaller echelon command posts requiring fewer users. The service plans to demonstrate this small-form factor Secure Wi-Fi capability during a risk reduction event in spring 2018 as a rapid acquisition initiative.

Meanwhile, the Army plans to halt procurement of WIN-T Increment 2, then field all of the equipment already purchased through fiscal 2021 while it searches for an objective network technology, officials said.

The service will retain the WIN-T Increment 1 system that is already fielded throughout the Army and the WIN-T Increment 2 that is currently in its light formations and Stryker brigades.

The Army also plans to field the entire force with Joint Battle Command Platform as its on-the-move mission command by fiscal 2022, Army officials said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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