Army prepares test of new wireless war game gear

OneTESS exercise planned for August

In August, the Army will conduct its first functional field test of a wireless tactical training system that it will eventually embed in Future Combat Systems vehicles and weapons systems. The One Tactical Engagement Simulation System (OneTESS) uses ad hoc wireless networks and geographic positioning data to create electronic bullets that can simulate the flight of artillery, grenades and other non-line-of-sight weapons.

The Army uses a collection of simulation systems for its exercises, primarily built around the two-decades-old Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES). But in 2000, the Army determined it needed a new system for tactical simulation to help train for networkcentric warfare, one that could be embedded in FCS vehicles and weapons systems for rehearsal and retraining in the field. OneTESS, which AT&T Government Solutions is developing for the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, is the result of that requirement.

“Because of trying to alleviate the [support requirements for training], the Army would like to have embedded training…in all of its combat systems,” said Steve Kessinger, AT&T Government Solutions’ OneTESS program manager. “So one of the major parts of the OneTESS program is to develop tech to include software, protocols [and] algorithms that can be fully embedded in combat systems.… When you deploy from the United States to a staging area, basically, you can go into a training and mission rehearsal right off the airplane or the boat with the [equipment] because your training is embedded directly” in FCS.

The field test, which will be conducted at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., will give soldiers their first look at prototypes of the gear. “When we hold our field test at NTC, we’ll take comments out there from soldiers and work with AT&T to incorporate [them] into the designs,” said Michael Bergman, the program executive office’s OneTESS project director.

OneTESS features an ad hoc wireless networking technology, called tiered geocasting, Kessinger said. Instead of an IP network, OneTESS uses geographic data to send a packet toward network nodes in the direction a weapon is aimed.

The network operates at two ranges: 500 meters for short range and 5 kilometers for artillery and vehicle weapons. “When you go into your simulated combat, you start sending these electronic-bullet messages,” he said. “Because the players all have [Global Positioning System devices] on board…we can send it to a geographic area by having the network forward the message until it gets to someone in the geographic location — that’s what we call tiered geocasting.”

When a potential target receives the electronic bullet, the shooter and target systems link, and messages go back and forth to determine the damage that would have been sustained, Kessinger said.

The operator of a single laptop PC using OneTESS’ exercise manager software can control the ad hoc network for a simulation with as many as 5,000 users, Kessinger said. The software can change how certain units in the exercise perform by giving them the capabilities of foreign weapons systems. “You can have an M-1 tank act like a [Russian-built] T-80,” he said.

The wireless networking technology behind OneTESS comes largely from existing ad hoc networking research at AT&T Labs. But the Army and AT&T had to develop one major new technology, the Weapons Orientation Module. WOM uses the Earth’s magnetic field to sense the direction a OneTESS-equipped weapon, such as a tank’s main gun or an M4 carbine, is pointed.

“We’ve got it down to within a degree of accuracy,” Kessinger said, “or less than half a degree if we do local calibration. But that’s not as accurate as the trainers want.” So until WOM is perfected, OneTESS will combine data from WOM and the older MILES gear, he said.

Although the NTC field test will be soldiers’ first close look at OneTESS gear, Bergman said, the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation and AT&T have already received feedback on some systems for armored vehicles. “AT&T and the government [have] gone out to Fort Hood, [Texas], and Fort Stewart, [Ga.],” he said. “We’ve done form and fits on the vehicles.”

Officials from the Army’s armor school also looked at the OneTESS hardware. And early prototypes of the units for the Mk 19 and M203 grenade launchers were shown to soldiers at Fort Benning.

Amir Helmy, a prototype assembly and integration project manager at AT&T Labs, said early input has been important in getting the systems ready for their first big test. “Ultimately, this product is for the soldiers, and if they don’t like it, we’re wasting our time. They tell us things we just don’t think of.”

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.

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