DoD Buzz

First Army Network Results Promising

When you walk the floor at the enormous Association of the US Army conference here, one display instantly catches your eye: Forward Operating Base Modernization. It's a simulated FOB, complete with a stripped down tactical operations center (TOC), simulated watch tower and a sort-of secure perimeter. The Army put a great deal of effort into the display because it showcases the service's most ambitious current acquisition effort, Brigade Combat Team Modernization, known to Buzz readers as Son of FCS.

What you won’t see at the display are the preliminary test results from the recent Limited User Test at White Sands Missile Range. More than 800 soldiers took part in the September test at White Sands Missile Range, including testers, faux Taliban, real US forces, faux ANA and faux ordinary Afghan villagers.

We haven’t seen the official results as they are still being scrubbed by the Army’s testers and the user community. But we’ve got an early read on the results from Col. John Wendel, program manager for BCTM. The final results will determine whether the Defense Acquisition Board approves the network and related sensors when it meets Dec. 22.

The two great bugaboos for the network and sensors that make up the program – technical performance and reliability – appear to have been conquered. The key asset, the moving network generated by the Wide Band Network Waveform used by the Ground Mobile Radio, performed pretty well. Basically, the network maintained Link State 2 – the highest level of effectiveness – for 75 percent of the Limited User Test, Wendel told me at FOB Modernization.

That performance level allows commanders the key ability to send and receive operational orders and files of up to 5MBs. Some 15 percent of the time the network operated at Link State 1, which allows for chats and the sending and reception of limited data files. The network was either down or coming back up or being worked on the other 10 percent of the time.

The main network covered an impressive amount of ground: an area 40 kilometers by 25 kilometers, linking 81 15 nodes (81 is the goal for a brigade). The Soldier Waveform Radio functioned across 3 to 6 kilometers in line of sight uses. Using an aerostat to boost the signal made a huge difference, Wendel said, saying it was able to cover up to 55 kilometers until the signal ran into basic problems like mountains.

The biggest negative for the network is start-up times. Wendel said it takes an average of 24 minutes to start up the radios. The target is to get that down to 15 minutes and Weldon said there are plans to make that happen. He noted that it would take a secure government laptop between 10 and 15 minutes to start up and connect to a network due to its security features.

The top performing sensor of the LUT was the Class 1 UAV, known to all as the flying beer keg. The opposing force told Wendel it made the biggest difference to their tactics. Its noise, which had been identified as a problem early in the tests, actually served as an effective deterrent, Wendel said.

Among the lessons learned during the LUT was that the Class I should probably be maintained by brigade commanders and fed out to squads for them to use. “It’s a delicate aircraft. We all know it’s a delicate aircraft,” Wendel said, noting that brigade could do a better job of caring for the aircraft between flights and of allocating the assets.

In a major signal that the Army believes the sensor systems are ready for prime time, it is buying production models for the Class 1 UAV, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (little robot with a camera) and the Unattended Ground Sensors. The first units have already been delivered.

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