WIN-T gears up to deliver on-the-move comms
Program office keeps sharp eye on equipment reliability as it advances toward milestones
Army Col. William “Chuck” Hoppe is project manager for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical network as part of the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical. Hoppe recently resumed his duties as WIN-T project manager after spending six months in Afghanistan as the principal staff member for command, control, communications and computer for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan South in Kandahar. He received the Bronze Star medal for his work there.
Hoppe spoke with Defense Systems contributing editor Barry Rosenberg about his observations on tactical communications needs in Afghanistan and about the latest developments in satellite communications and on-the-move communications.
DS: What did your experience in Afghanistan tell you about the Army’s needs for satcom and comms on the move, and what can your office provide?
Hoppe: I preface my answer by saying that the topography of Regional Command South (RC South) includes the Hindu Kush Mountains in the northern part, but most of RC South is desert. So you have a terrain that lends itself to line-of-sight communications. The problem is that it is a vast expanse, so things like curvature of the earth start impacting your ability to have line of sight.
The brigade commanders I dealt with on a day-to-day basis all wanted on-the-move capability. They did not have the WIN-T on-the-move capability, and, frankly, they did not have any of the [comms-on-the-move vehicles] that have been done in Iraq. But every one of them had the same request: “How can we get this stuff here faster?” That’s because they all had a requirement to stay connected to their commands while they were moving, whether that was in the air or on the ground. So it was not just whether we could get them on-the-move-capability for their Stryker, up-armored Humvee or my mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle but also a conversation about on the move even if they were in an Army command-and-control bird.
DS: What did you learn from the experience?
Hoppe: From a requirements standpoint, the need operationally for what the commanders have to have to execute their missions. It is not my position to validate [that], but in the position I was in, I could say that it is a valid concern. They have a legitimate need.
The challenge I ran into is how do I take the program we’ve been given in terms of defined requirements, validated to the [Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System] process, funded through Office of the Secretary of Defense with congressional appropriation and try to do what most people want to do, which is accelerate? And frankly, that is an issue of schedule. I have a litany of tests and mandatory gates that I have to get through, and when you line them up on a schedule, I can only do them so fast. And that, frankly, becomes the biggest challenge.
Most people think it is money. Money is a challenge from a different aspect. As you recall, I got in this job because the program came out of a Nunn-McCurdy restructure after the program hit 25 percent cost growth. So just throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve the problem. Actually, it can make the problem worse, depending on which one of the processes you run afoul of.
DS: What did you learn about the way WIN-T manages its satcom programs?
Hoppe: One of the fallacies that some people take when they look at Increments 2-3 is that they’ll look at what we call the transmission subsystem, and they’ll break it down. The transmission subsystem consists of three parts: the satcom on the move part, the terrestrial on-the-move part and the integrated network operations. As you recall, the thing that makes WIN-T WIN-T in Increments 2 and 3 is the integration of that satcom and terrestrial networks with no person in the loop so that as the terrestrial network gets blocked, it automatically establishes satcom links and you don’t drop out of the network. And when that terrestrial blockage goes away, it breaks down the satcom link and pushes you over the more efficient line-of-sight link.
What we in the program office have been charged to do is bring that complete transmission subsystem — so not bring a satcom piece and then bring a line-of-sight piece and then try and bring them together. It is being an integrated transmission subsystem that allows us to take advantage in Increment 2 of a two-tiered architecture — line of sight on the ground and then satcom. In [Increment] 3, the program is to bring an intermediate layer — an air tier — so that we always didn’t have to push up over satcom, which is an expensive link, not just in money but also in time, and we can get the same bandwidth through as we can with a terrestrial link.
The challenge is that if you break those three parts out individually, you can find satcom on-the-move capability today. You can also find line-of-sight on the move today. And if you look at them independently, you could probably even find cheaper solution spaces. But that is not the requirement that was placed on the WIN-T program. Nobody is doing what we’re doing and integrating the line of sight and the satcom and then the net ops to initialize, plan, monitor and maintain that network and also bounce between satcom and line of sight with no person in the loop. That is what makes WIN-T WIN-T. I say that because there are a number of solution spaces that then get brought to the table to solve immediate operational need requirements in theater. They’re valid.
DS: You mean all the one-off communications and on-the-move solutions?
Hoppe: Right. Those are valid operational requirements as stipulated and validated by the commanders in the field. The challenge we run into as a program office is that a short-term investment today may or may not have legs to the future in terms of where the Army is going. If we bring in a waveform that is not going to be compatible with anything that the Army is doing in the future, then there has to be some decision criteria associated with cost/trade-off benefit. How much do we buy of that one-off solution set? Does it have legs to the future in terms of can it be made compatible with the network? Is it going to work with the stuff that the big Army is going to in its backbone program? All the questions have to be wrestled with, and in some cases, the answer is, it’s not. It’s going to be an in-theater solution space only. But that isn’t the program office’s call. That is the decision of the G3 of the Army, vice chief of the Army and chief of the Army. That is their decision space.
DS: WIN-T’s on-the-move program received Milestone C authority earlier this year. What’s next?
Hoppe: We’re getting ready for the initial operational evaluation for Increment 2. The schedule has it in the December time frame of next year. We have authorizations in the LRIP 1A [a partial authority to begin limited production] because coming out of the Milestone C, the milestone decision authority wanted us to come back to him with additional information. But he did give us limited LRIP quantity so that we could move forward to build the kit necessary to execute our tests.
That basically is three brigade combat teams worth of kit: the kit for the five regional hubs, a division headquarters’ kit and then one of the training base kits. That all is necessary for us to get to IOT&E and then prep for first unit equipped.
In the interim, the Defense Department is looking at the reliability of the equipment. They wanted us to go back and look at some reliability and growth planning for the pieces of equipment themselves — in this case, the [tactical communications (TC) node] and the [Point of Presence Soldier Network Extension]. Those are the major communications points of presence (POP).
At the battalion and brigade level, the heavy lifting piece of kit is the TC. That right now is the five-ton vehicle that’s got both satcom and terrestrial waveforms on them. It is the heavy lifter, the main component of the network. Then you have the POPs. Those are the thickening piece of the network. It also has both satcom and terrestrial transmission components on it. It goes in the brigade or battalion commander’s vehicle. There is also a POP that is provided because we need certain densities in the network in order to add enough robustness so that we can have multiple paths in and out.
The piece that was added with Increment 2 that was not there initially is called the SNE. That is just the satcom component. But now you have the satcom on-the-move component down at the company level. It was designed to do two things. It has in it a combat net radio extension box, if you will.
What it does is this: In these company areas that have gotten rather large, especially in some of the different pieces of terrain in Iraq and Afghanistan, standard [Enhanced Position Location Reporting System] and standard [Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System] get out of range of each other. This SNE has the capability that if one of those radios can see the company commander’s vehicle, they can transmit to that vehicle over their SINCGARS or EPLRS radio.
We then cross band it into satcom, take it up and take it back down, and then we can link in their other unit, which may be out of satcom range or out of line-of-sight range of the other radio. So it gives us the ability to heal those networks down to company level. That was one of the primary purposes for putting it down there.
There is obviously a secondary benefit now, in that the company commander now has a direct link into the backbone network with that SNE. So he actually has voice-over-IP telephone capability. He has limited capability because it is a smaller pipe, but he has limited capability of getting data and video down to him over that same pipe. So we now push the WIN-T network down to the company, which was not where it was before. It stopped at battalion.
Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.