Army lays groundwork for network integration on the battlefield
Upcoming evaluation to feature six limited user tests
Col. John Wendel recently assumed the duties of deputy program executive officer for network integration at the Army Program Executive Office for Integration, advancing from project manager of the Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
In his new role, Wendel oversees acquisition duties that include the brigade-level integration, systems engineering and test readiness of six independent systems in testing and more than 20 systems in evaluation for the 2011 June/July Network Integration Evaluation at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. It is scheduled to be the Army’s largest network integration test ever, with 29 nodes incorporating Joint Tactical Radio System radios and other networking hardware for a full battalion of Army soldiers, led by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) 1st Armored Division Army Evaluation Task Force.
Six formal programs of record will be participating in six separate limited user tests:
- JTRS Ground Mobile Radio (GMR) — a multichannel, vehicle-mounted software-programmable radio that can transmit voice, video, data and images using high-bandwidth waveforms, such as the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and the Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW).
- JTRS Handheld Manpack Small Form Fit radio, a multichannel, soldier-mounted radio that can also operate via SRW and WNW.
- Joint Capabilities Release, a next-generation software for Force Battle Command Brigade and Below display screens that features Army/Marine Corps interoperability and advanced mapping tool kits.
- Mounted Soldier System, a helmet-mounted display for combat vehicle operation.
- Network integration kit to bring GMR to the Warfigther Information Network-Tactical Increment 1 Joint Network Node systems.
- Spider remote munitions delivery system for force protection.
The 2011 Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) is the first of four events leading to a fully integrated BCT Network Evaluation at the end of 2012. The 2012 Integrated Network Test will be the culminating event to solidify the 2013-2014 Network Capability Set.
From his office at Fort Bliss, Wendel spoke recently with Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg about managing the NIE operation.
DS: In the run up to NIE this summer, what is the task you had to deal with yesterday, worked on again today and will do again tomorrow? Is there something like that?
Wendel: Yes, it’s really the essence of what we have been asked to do, and that is to synchronize the material development enterprise so that we can effectively integrate the network and all of these systems under evaluation and test into a composite brigade formation.
DS: What elements does the composite brigade represent?
Wendel: They have an augmented table of organization and equipment. So it is a brigade formation with all types of equipments. It’s not a pure heavy BCT; it’s not a pure Stryker BCT. So they have got the infantry unit with theater provided equipment, as well as MRAPs, Strykers and tanks. It’s a good mix of all of the brigade formations in a single brigade.
That’s a very important piece because the Army has 76 BCTs of different flavors. If we had pure-fleeted the Army’s test bed, the 2/1 Armored Division here, then we would not be getting a lot of specific integration challenges we have been asked to accomplish.
DS: What are the goals and challenges for the largest Army integration tests?
Wendel: We are trying to change our way of doing business, and we are trying to change our culture. So we have established the Triad. The Triad has three legs. Maj. Gen. John Bartley, [the program executive officer for integration], leads the assistant secretary of the Army [acquisition, logistics and technology] leg. I am his colonel on the ground representing PEO Integration. The Army Test and Evaluation Command has two subordinate organizations — the Operational Test Command and the Army Evaluation Center — which are all led by ATEC Commander Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco. The Brigade Modernization Command under Maj. Gen. Keith Walker is the third leg.
What we are trying to do is change the way of doing business, and what I mean by that is that we are going to do is run twice-annual tests — a network integration rehearsal and then network integration evaluation, one in the spring, one in the fall. We are going to get more agile and spin this twice a year.
In the past, the Army spent years developing the approved requirements documents and then developing and testing the systems. By the time you find out whether it passed or failed the tests, five to 10 years had passed, and a lot of the technologies were obsolete. So what the Army is trying to do now is open our gates a little bit. Let’s figure out as part of an agile process how we validate requirements, how we identify requirements gaps, how we leverage technologies that may address requirements we haven’t even yet identified, and how we pull new capabilities in along with programs of record.
Another big piece is that we are forcing integration, and levels and degrees of integration that we never thought of before. And so it’s very painful for most of the programs and the systems involved because now they have to make what we call in the engineering world a “trade space” for everything from the schedule to performance.
If I’m competing for space and power on a platform and there are three other systems there, well, now we have to start making technical trades, programmatic trades. But it’s better to do it here at Fort Bliss and White Sands. It’s better to do it here than to force that integration and that painful arbitration in Afghanistan.That’s the goodness of this whole effort.
DS: Looking back at the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team effort that’s phasing out, what did you learn from that effort, and how is that rolling into what you are doing now?
Wendel: What the Army learned through the Increment 1 effort led to the termination of the Class I UAV and Unattended Ground Sensors. But the goodness, the crown jewel of the Increment 1 systems, was the GMR radio and the network integration kit, with the emphasis on the GMR radio because it has two of the Army’s objective waveforms: SRW and WNW.
SRW and the Rifleman Radio are going to be our lower-tier connections to the tactical edge, and the waveform will manifest itself through openly competed systems. The objective waveform is the major win here.
Now, WNW, to me, is the No. 1 contribution or value added to the Army’s network evolution. With WNW, we are up to 29 dynamic nodes in a tactical formation providing terrestrial broadband capability. WNW is nothing more than the pipe, the conduit across which information flows, but it’s mobile. It has got dynamic routing, and it’s broad pipe right now.
DS: And when you say 29 dynamic modes, you mean 29 GMR radios in Strykers and command and control vehicles?
Wendel: What we have done is created a 29-node network.… That means 29 GMR single-channel radios in a battalion equipped with MRAPs and some Humvees and also including tactical operations centers. So that’s the largest nodal density within an IBCT, and again, we have a composite brigade. That battalion really reflects a battalion of an IBCT. So 29 nodes is really the goal for the Increment 1 systems and the GMR radios.
We [demonstrated] 29 nodes through the Increment 1 technical testing that went on earlier this year. We got very good performance data on WNW, which exceeded all performance from last year in terms of things like message completion rate and latency.
DS: What speed and capacity have you achieved across those nodes with WNW?
Wendel: So we have actually sent a 29M file in nine minutes. Now, nine minutes is a long time, but we have throttled the bandwidth down and the data rates down so we know what we can safely send. But think about it, I haven’t sent a 29M file off my laptop computer because the Army won’t let me do it. I’m limited to 10M per file.
DS: Right, most computers are limited.
Wendel: Right, so you have got it. So 29M file in less than 10 minutes in an operational environment says: “Hey, there’s some serious horsepower here in WNW.”
DS: Your tasks as integration manager for the network integration tests are very detail oriented and focused on making sure all the right boxes are checked. What about the process rises above the rest and keeps you jazzed about the work?
Wendel: This is some of the most rewarding work I’ve done in my career in the sense that we have been empowered not to break rules but to find out how we can find efficiencies and streamline the way we do things. What gets me jazzed, I guess, is that we have been empowered, and the folks on the ground get it.
I’m surrounded by some of the most competent, professional soldiers, engineers and people who wouldn’t be out here if they didn’t want to do this. They are out here away from their families…away from their kids. They don’t live at Fort Bliss; they’re coming from around the country, and they are dedicated to taking care of soldiers.
So that’s why I’m excited about doing this. Will it be perfect? No. Will 29 systems work? No. Is the network going to be perfect? Probably not. But the goal this year is to set the context. We just stood up this brigade. They are still receiving their vehicles. So this brigade has just stood up, and the Army has invested in it. A full-up brigade is a big commitment to do this test. There has never been a full-up brigade in the past to be a test bed for the Army. The Army is committed to it.