Army poised to deploy first phase of combat team upgrades

Increment 1 offers enhanced situational awareness for companies and platoons

The Army is moving ahead with plans to test and ultimately deploy its long-awaited package of network-centric battlefield communications and sensor equipment. After a long and somewhat contentious development process, Increment 1 of the Army’s Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) modernization effort is nearing final readiness.

Program officers speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army's recent Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., said they were pleased with the program’s progress, although skeptics have noted that the program’s previous incarnation, the Future Combat Systems, was troubled by an overly ambitious schedule coupled with untested new technologies.

Increment 1 of the new program is designed to improve solders’ situational awareness at the company and platoon levels. It consists of unattended ground sensors, a Class 1 unmanned aerial system and a small unmanned ground vehicle. The IBCT systems will be networked through the Network Integration Kit (NIK), which permits efficient data sharing and command and control on the battlefield.

The goal is to incrementally develop and field a ground tactical network capability to all of the Army’s brigade combat teams. The network is a key part of the IBCT modernization, said Maj. Bill Venable, assistant project manager for IBCT in the Army's Program Executive Office for Integration.

Venable said the tactical network creates a self-healing network that soldiers can access with preloaded keys on their communications equipment, such as the Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio. He added that IP-addressable, software-defined radios greatly increase Army units’ ability to interoperate and share data because every device on the network is linked by its own IP address.

An important part of the JTRS GMR capability will move voice and data across the battlefield. Venable said the JTRS soldier waveform can provide troops with local-area network connectivity at distances of more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) for communications equipment and sensors. That capability also allows for sensor/data fusion at command nodes and permits important data to move quickly to decision-makers.

A key part of Increment 1 is NIK, which is a suite of vehicle-mounted networking equipment and software designed to provide network connectivity. It consists of an integrated computer system that hosts battle command software, System of Systems Common Operating Environment software, and a JTRS GMR that provides an interface to sensors and unmanned systems.

NIK also supports troops at the platoon and company levels by integrating a variety of data coming into a command post. It allows commanders to make near-real-time tactical decisions and provides a variety of software tools for use in the command center. For example, it offers chat functions that users can subscribe to for mission data or medevac alerts. Venable said users at the company level can send a medevac request for casualty retrieval, and it is immediately transmitted to all the medevac units that subscribe to the network without being filtered through a command post.

Increment 1 begins field tests next summer. If the tests are successful, Venable said he expects the tools to be deployed to some units in Afghanistan in 2012. A full deployment of all IBCT capabilities will happen sometime in 2017, he added.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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