Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division deploying to Afghanistan next year will have a secret weapon to go with their kit bag. Not just the smartphones and satellites that will come with Capability Set 13. The next generation Network will also come with soldiers like Maj. Stephen Dail who have spent the last few years at White Sand Missile Range, N.M., to learn how to use it.
Maj. Gen Genaro J. Dellarocco, head of U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, admitted the Army had forced soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to too often learn how to use the latest gadget or weapon in combat. Often times that piece of equipment was only the "60 percent solution or worse," Dellarocco said. If it didn't work it got relegated to the nearest Conex container. If it did, soldiers often struggled to use it correctly without the proper training.
The 3rd and 4th Brigade Combat Team with the 10th Mountain Division will be the first to deploy with the next generation communications network designed to provide unprecedented levels of connectivity for infantry soldiers on the battlefield. Col. Dan Hughes, director of Systems of Systems Integration, confirmed the first pieces of equipment will arrive at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Oct.1 when the Network training regimen will begin prior to their 2013 deployment.
Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armor Division have tested and trained the Network the past few years during the first three Network Integration Evaluations. Thirty percent of the brigade will rotate out of the division with many moving to one of the eight brigade combat teams scheduled to receive Capability Set 13, Hughes said.
Army leadership displayed Thursday their collection of advanced satellites, smartphones and radios at the Pentagon courtyard to give many service members their first look at the communications system the Army has spent more than 15 years developing. Army officials promised they've learned from the errors they've made in the past that have cost tax payers billions of dollars and prevented soldiers from using these communications systems in the past decade of war.
Brig. Gen. John Morisson, head of LandWarNet/Mission Command, said the Army learned that "building network capabilities is not the Army's core competency. It's industry's core competency and we want to leverage their innovation." Army leaders also learned it makes a lot more sense to put the equipment in the hands of soldiers and see if the systems works instead of just shipping it to Afghanistan and hoping for the best.
This is where soldiers like Dail, Capt. Ryan McNally, and Capt. Phillip McCoy stepped in and made sense of a Network that was literally drowning under unrealistic requirements. Until recently, the Army's Nett Warrior program had a requirement to operate under water for two hours. Keep in mind this system is strapped to a soldier's back -- a soldier who would not have an underwater breathing apparatus.
Soldiers with 2-1 had to get rid of ridiculous requirements and pick out the expensive "paperweights" to include Boeing's Ground Mobile Radio. Army leaders took their feedback and scrapped under performing programs. The Army swiftly canceled GMR after soldiers such as McCoy found it too often overheated and left units without connectivity.
"It makes me feel better to see that some things haven't worked and gotten thrown out. Going through this and seeing the equipment that has stayed gives it some credibility," said Dail who is a communications officer with 2-1. He has spent more than 6 months in the field to figure out if the Network works and how soldiers can use it effectively. Dail will be one of the soldiers deploying ahead of the 10th Mountain Division to help set the Network up and then help operate it in combat. He's the Army's easy button.
Soldiers boasting more combat deployments than engineering degrees haven't simply dispatched of Army acquisition failures. Those soldiers who know what will make their deployments easier have figured out ways to solve problems found with the Network.
Commanders, for example, have complained that the rest of the headquarters staff gets cut off when a unit packs up its tactical operations center and transits to its next position. Using the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2, the commander never loses connectivity and his picture of the battlefield with satellites and hardened laptops installed into his vehicle. His staff, however, is blind.
To fix the program, Dail said 2-1 has recommended the Army set up a wireless network that will function when the convoy transits allowing the headquarters staff to sync up in their vehicle to the same databases the commander is seeing displayed on his computer. Brig. Gen. Randall Dragon, head of the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command, said the Army is considering the recommendation and has not made a final decision.
Officers and non-commissioned officers will also pass on new tactics soldiers with 2-1 learned while using the more advanced equipment. McNally highlighted the extended range he can communicate with his soldiers using the Soldier Radio Waveform. He said he could clearly hear soldiers through his radio 11 miles away. Using legacy systems, McNally said he'd be lucky to connect with his squads 4 miles out. McNally said the extended range gives him more flexibility to push squads further out on patrols.
More than 15 years since the service first started to develop this type of advanced Network, it's easy to pick up on the excitement from both the brass and the soldiers with 2-1 when they talk about the upcoming deployment of Capability Set 13. The discussion has turned from "if" to "when" these radios and smartphones finally reach combat. It only took an Army decision to get the Network out of the computer labs and into the desert with the soldiers who will use them to salvage any hope of deploying it before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have ended.