Network backbone unleashed

Army deploys first stage of Warfighter Information Network- Tactical program in its march toward net-centric battlefield communications

The Army’s Warfighter Information Network- Tactical (WIN-T) program has been in development for nearly a decade in one guise or another, but the network backbone of the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program is finally seeing the light of day.

Deployment of the first stage of WIN-T has already begun, with evaluation and user tests expected to begin this fall. Tests of the next two stages, which will bring fully mobile networking to combat teams in the field, are slated to begin in the next several years.

The fate of the final stage of the network’s development remains unknown. It depends on whether the Defense Department’s Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) is launched, and that decision is still pending.

It’s all a part of the Army’s vision of WIN-T as a cornerstone of its network-centric battlefield plans. The network figures prominently in the Army’s 500-Day Plan, released in August 2007, and it is a critical element of the Army chief information officer’s long-term strategic document issued shortly after.

WIN-T will be the guide for the standards and protocols applied for applications and network hosts used for the Army’s LandWarNet enterprise integration, according to the CIO’s plan. Although WIN-T is not scheduled for full implementation until 2025, it states, the Army’s disparate communications systems need to converge into a single integrated network by 2015.

“If the Army is to fully enable the FCS, we must begin now to implement these capabilities by spinning out information technologies that can be inserted into the Army today to provide our warfighters with enhanced capabilities as soon as they are available,” the document states.

Upside of restructuring

The WIN-T program underwent a major restructuring in 2007 because its ballooning budget triggered the Nunn- McCurdy law, which requires stricter congressional oversight of programs that exceed their allotted funding.

The restructuring has produced some positive effects and reflects the Army’s concerns about synchronizing its needs for FCS networking more closely with WIN-T capabilities. The program is now organized in four stages, or increments, to enable faster and continuous deployment of networking features to the field

However, to some extent, the speed of Increment 1’s development is smoke and mirrors.

Work on a similar satellite communications program, the Joint Network Node-Network ( JNN-N) program, caused some of WIN-T’s early troubles. By the time the Army decided to restructure the WIN-T program, the service had already spent about $2 billion on JNN-N and was supplying Humvee-mounted and truck towed satellite terminals to units in the field.

The original plans called for WIN-T to replace JNN-N by 2025, but the Army wanted that goal to be set much sooner.

The Army chose to fold JNN-N into WIN-T and rename the JNN-N program as WIN-T Increment 1.

So far, there have been nine lots, or rounds, of buys for JNN-N. Lot 10 will mark the first upgrade of JNN-N and is designated as Increment 1a. It will add Ka-band satellite capability to the commercial Kuband communications that JNN-N already provides.

The next upgrade, Increment 1b, will introduce the Net Centric Waveform, which optimizes bandwidth usage, in addition to a security architecture that conforms with Global Information Grid information assurance requirements.

The Army approved the final design of increments 1 and 2 early this year, following a $921 million contract award for work on increments 2 and 3 in September 2007 to the WIN-T team, led by prime contractor General Dynamics.

Increment 1 deliveries started in May to the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Wash., said Bill Weiss, vice president of tactical networks at General Dynamics C4 Systems. Initial operational test and evaluation begins this month with the same unit.

Despite all the activity, Increment 1 doesn’t add much to what is already available through JNN-N. However, Increment 2 is the new addition to the program brought about by the reorganization of WIN-T.

The goal of the WIN-T program is to give warfighters wireless mobility. JNN-N requires soldiers to come to a halt, and it can take as long as 30 minutes for them to set up the communications gear. To alleviate that burden, Increment 1, which is described as networking- at-the-halt, will be self-configuring, but won’t provide on-the-move satellite communications capabilities.

Increment 2, valued at $128 million, introduces an initial mobile networking capability using satellite and radio links. It will be the intermediary between the communications technology provided in Increment 1 and the full mobile networking capability that Increment 3 will offer.

As such, Weiss said, “Increment 2 is a critical enabler of mobile battle command.”

Radio to the rescue

Whereas Increment 1 is strictly satellite-based communications, satellite is not even the preferred link in Increment 2, said Col. William Hoppe, WIN-T program manager. The main link is provided through a high-bandwidth radio being developed by Harris, a member of the General Dynamics team.

Hoppe said the radio has a big-pipe capability and allows for self-forming and self-healing networks that users can drop in and out of without having to engage in handshaking — the re-negotiation of a network connection after its loss. The satellite is the secondary link that the network will automatically switch to when radio communications are not available.

Increment 2 will be delivered only to select brigade combat teams and division headquarters, and it is expected to go into formal testing later this year, Hoppe said, with limited user testing set to begin in March 2009. Warfighters in the field should start receiving the units by 2010.

The $795 million Increment 3, which will deliver fully mobile networking at the company level for maneuver, fires and aviation brigades, in effect represents the WIN-T program as it existed before its restructuring, Weiss said. It’s still largely in the research and development phase, as part of a single, integrated development program that encompasses increments 2 and 3.

Increment 3 is the first element of WINT that will fully support the FCS program. Limited user testing is scheduled to begin in 2011, with fielding projected for 2014.

Although it’s meant to continue the developments begun in Increment 2, it will have one major difference: an airborne tier added to the terrestrial radio and satellite links. A network overlay will be installed on unmanned aircraft that can retain line-of-sight connectivity if that is no longer available through other links.

The major uncertainty is with Increment 4, which is labeled Protected Satellite Communications On-the-Move and will provide full protection against jamming, detection and interception. In addition, it will provide the capacity to handle the kinds of traffic volumes expected from the TSAT program.

TSAT also allows for smaller aperture dishes – in the range of 12 inches to 20 inches — in the Increment 4 WIN-T units, Hoppe said. The decrease in size means smaller units on the ground and less power consumption.

However, TSAT’s future is unclear. Designed as a five-satellite constellation with throughput of as much as 40 gigabits/ sec, the first satellite was expected to launch in late 2013. But worries about the readiness of the technologies planned for the program caused Congress to slash its funding.

The Air Force reacted by cutting its TSAT funding for the next five years by about $4 billion, for a total of $6.6 billion in funding. As a result, design and development schedules have been delayed, and it’s unclear when, or if, the satellites will launch.

That leaves planning for Increment 4 in limbo.

“The Army is working on the acquisition approach for Increment 4,” Weiss said. ■

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