Mobile command posts boost battlefield control
Prototype vehicles put more communications capabilities into commanders' hands
At the massive Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) held in June and July at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the Army tested specially equipped vehicles designed to provide company commanders with an on-the-move command and control capability. Stocked with communications gear and battle management systems, the vehicles are part of an effort to enhance smaller units’ situational awareness and access to battlefield intelligence data.
During the event, Army troops put two vehicles — a Stryker armored combat vehicle and a mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP), all-terrain vehicle (M-ATV) — equipped with communications gear and C2 applications normally found in fixed command posts, through a series of operational exercises.
Army tactical network gets a stress test
Designed to support forces at the company level, the vehicles’ role in the exercise is intended to help the Army determine what needs to be done at this echelon to attain mobile C2 capability, said Maj. Scott Bailey, assistant product manager at the Army’s Program Executive Office for Integration, one of the organizations that managed the NIE.
In the Stryker, the Army PEO-Integration sought to push a battalion-level C2 capability down to the company commander. The vehicle is equipped with a range of systems and applications, such as the Command Post of the Future, Forward Observing System and Tactical Ground Reporting system.Many of those applications require Secret IP Network access, necessitating a wireless connection. In theater, if a commander can access SIPRNet and regional or U.S.-based servers, all that is needed in the vehicle is a thin-client laptop to use the applications, Bailey said.
The M-ATV has a less robust communications suite than the Stryker does, but it is intended to operate primarily as a company-level C2 package coupled to a trailer that has a full command post suite. The trailer’s tow hitch was designed to attach to an M-ATV and several other types of MRAPs. “Effectively, you have a huge suite of prime movers that the trailer could move,” Bailey said.
Although the trailer and M-ATV are part of a package, the trailer-mounted command post can operate independently as a full company command post with its own power, fuel and communications capabilities. But because the M-ATV has its own inherent C2-on-the-move capability, it can leave the trailer and operate independently.
On its own, the M-ATV has fewer C2 systems and applications than the trailer or the Stryker, but Bailey said it still provides commanders with a significant capability to operate away from the company command post. “In essence, you have the company command post that’s doing the bulk of the data mining and C2 work," he said. "The company commander has the ability to access back to the command post remotely from his vehicle based on its beyond-line-of-sight capability.”
The M-ATV is fitted with a small, roof-mounted satellite antenna to provide a mobile C2 capability. The antenna is similar to the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Soldier Network Extension in some of its capabilities. Because an SNE was not yet available for the evaluation, PEO-Integration used a similar system to provide beyond-line-of-sight satellite connectivity. The SNE is part of the WIN-T Increment 2, and it is designed to provide company commanders with communications on the move, he said.
For the NIE, the Army studied four C2 platforms:
- An M-ATV-towed trailer-based version.
- A Stryker-based version.
- A tent-based version.
- One with an MRAP and a tent.
Bailey said the MRAP is more of a mission command vehicle, like a company commander’s vehicle.
“What’s common across all these different form factors is a set of applications,” Bailey said. PEO-Integration attempted to keep all of the applications in the tent, trailer, M-ATV and Stryker versions of the C2 package as similar as possible. The goal behind this commonality is to assess whether the applications are the right ones for the mission, he said.
For the vehicle aspect of the company C2 package, PEO-Integration plans to use the WIN-T Increment 2 SNE in future evaluations. The Stryker and M-ATV were fitted with a communications-on-the-move system that replicated most of the SNE’s capabilities but not necessarily what the network will represent, Bailey said. An important aspect of testing communications gear in the vehicles is to determine how useful they are to commanders. The utility of the mobile systems is then correlated to how static command posts operate in a high-intensity environment. “If we’re doing it right, we’re hoping to get some overlap between the two,” he said.
The goal of the C2 vehicles is to allow commanders to get out of the command post during high-intensity operations. During the NIE, PEO-Integration studied how successfully these systems supported those missions. Another part of this study is to make sure that these vehicle-based systems work with the company command post. “I have the company command post that’s facilitating the majority of the operation, but if [the commander] has the freedom to get out and move around a battle space with his platoons, you’ve got an incredible amount of capability at the company level,” he said.
During the NIE’s capstone event, individual companies of the the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division spread out across a 275 kilometer by 55 kilometer area at the White Sands Missile Range. In some parts of the range, especially in the mountainous northern area, units had to rely on vehicle-mounted satellite communications systems.
The Stryker operated in the southern part of the range, which is mostly rolling desert. Based on the mission sets that the battalion ran, PEO-Integration will study the collected data. “We’ve put a lot into the mix right now, and we’re waiting for more feedback," Bailey said. "Each unit is taking a different approach, whether they’re doing a counter-insurgency operation or a movement to contact type operation. There’s a wide variety of missions that are occurring. We’re going to get quite a bit of data back.”
If the Stryker and the M-ATV platforms are successful, the Army might move them from an evaluation capability to a limited user test and into the acquisition cycle, said Maj. Michael Tremblay, the 2nd Brigade’s operations officer. By pushing a battalion-level C2 capability down to the company level, it could greatly enhance commander’s ability to carry out missions. “The counter-insurgency fight is fought by companies,” he said.
But the data from the NIE has to be evaluated before decisions can be made. One challenge is that the company-level C2 platforms have fewer people to manage information. Compared to a battalion command post, which has a staff of 30 people working in shifts, the Stryker only has the company commander and another solider to manage all the incoming data. Company commanders might find ways to use the tools, or they might consider them too burdensome. Feedback from the tests will sort out those issues, Tremblay said.