July 8, 2011
By Kris Osborn, ASA(ALT)
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M.,– Standing attentively inside a tactical operations center, Sgt. David Johnson was able to pinpoint the location of an enemy sniper team and share real-time, combat-relevant intelligence across the force using networking gear now being evaluated.
The gear is being field tested during the Army’s ongoing Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, and the TOC is located in a “mountain village” strategically nested between hills on White Sands Missile Range, N.M., designed to replicate Afghan desert terrain.
“The platoon leader was able to send information up to us and give our commanders the intel that we’ve got guys with machine guns and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) in a building. He was able to prep the fire mission for artillery and go ahead and hit the building without having to endanger Soldiers on the ground,” Johnson explained.
The information in this mock-combat scenario, appearing as an icon on a laptop display screen inside the TOC, was sent using Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio, or GMR — a four-channel, multi-waveform software programmable radio able to transmit voice, data images and video across the force in real-time.
Using a high-bandwidth waveform called Wideband Networking Waveform — which draws from a larger part of the available spectrum than legacy waveforms to move information, farther, faster and more efficiently — the GMR transmitted and received the data using a mobile command post set up inside a Caiman mine-resistant, ambush-protected, or MRAP, vehicle.
In the case of GMR and some of the other systems under test and evaluation, the Army is assessing the technology in its current configuration and also exploring additional hardware and software solutions which might perform the same or similar functions in a more efficient or effective manner.
The display screen in the TOC used Force Battle Command Brigade and Below, or FBCB2 force tracking technology, augmented by new software also under evaluation called Joint Capabilities Release, or JCR.
This scenario, wherein battle-relevant information is instantly transmitted across the force in real time, from dismounted units on the ground conducting counterinsurgency reconnaissance missions, to vehicles on-the-move and static command posts, represents the very heart of what the Army’s ongoing NIE is aiming to accomplish, officials said.
The massive, 3,800-Soldier strong NIE is putting developmental “networking” technologies such as the GMR, JCR and scores of other technologies in the hands of Soldiers on the ground with a mind to establishing what works best and performing needed integration of emerging technologies before items are sent downrange to deployed units in theater.
Overall, the NIE integrates five Limited User Tests and 29 technologies termed Systems Under Evaluation into a single exercise, said Paul Mehney, communications director for Program Executive Office – Integration.
“By doing the integration down here at the NIE with an evaluation brigade, we are not sending equipment to deployed Soldiers that is not integrated,” Mehney said.
The exercise, involving the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, includes the full range of potential combat scenarios to include wide-area security, counterinsurgency, and combined arms maneuvers, said Col. Dave Wellons, a director with Operational Test Command.
Operational Test Command and the Army Test and Evaluation Command will both complete reports following the NIE, detailing the major data and findings of the exercise, Wellons explained.
More than 700 Army Test and Evaluation Command personnel are participating in the NIE in order to collect data on the systems under test and those under evaluation.
Instrumentation in the form of micro-computers has been placed on vehicles and even with Soldiers in some instances as a way to gather data on the technologies under review, said Barry Laumond, Operational Test Command, Mounted Division chief.
Mock enemies or “Red” forces are dispersed among the countryside and placed in caves, “villages” and other strategic locations with the mission to challenge, attack and disrupt the U.S. or “Blue” forces set up at various locations across White Sands.
The mock villages include Afghan-style tribal leaders who participate in “Key Leader Engagements” with U.S. forces in order to replicate realistic counterinsurgency-type scenarios. The village even has a mock Taliban shadow government similar to those which currently exist in theater, said Lt. Col. Mathew Fath, battalion commander, 1st brigade, 35th armor.
Blue forces stationed at the “mountain village” outpost of White Sands perform the typical range of combat missions during the NIE: route-clearance, reconnaissance, scout missions, interdiction, time-sensitive raids on the enemy and counter-improvised explosive device efforts, among other missions, Fath explained.
One of the main missions central to counterinsurgency is “census” operations designed to allow U.S. forces to get a handle on the local population so as to protect the innocent and properly locate and target insurgents, said Fath.
“If you are tracking a certain insurgent you want to capture, you are looking for tribal links and you are looking for family links. You have to have the baseline census operation of who the population is in your AO (area of operations),” Fath explained.
The NIE is part of an ongoing series of evaluations designed to streamline the acquisition of IT, improve Army business practices and combine commercial off-the-shelf technologies with programs of record.
The idea is to develop networking technologies on a faster time frame than the current status quo in order to best serve Soldiers in combat and keep pace with the speed of technological change.
As part of this process and to begin an evaluation of which systems to include in subsequent exercises, the Army has sent a handful of “sources sought” requests to industry, asking them to propose technological solutions to a handful of identified networking capability gaps. So far, PEO-I is assessing more than 70 White Papers submitted by industry in response to this request, Mehney said.
“We are beginning an assessment of the White Papers to match them up to known requirements and assess whether the capability is technically mature,” Mehney said. “We are also taking a look at the integration requirements. Can this capability integrate into the hardware and software infrastructures we are working with?”