Industry works to untether forces with mobile command on-the-move technology

Army fast-tracks acquisition of its combat communications architecture

As the Army drills down to further define its needs for Mobile Command on the Move (MCOTM), industry is stepping up with technology to untether ground force communication.

The service’s continuing series of Network Integration Evaluations (NIE) continues to fast-track acquisition of what will become the Army’s combat communications architecture of the future, and the spotlight is shining bright on what the defense industry can bring to the table.

“Any soldier who has experienced a rough ride, with two multiple radio devices, while simultaneously conducting map navigation, understands the necessity of a simple on-the-move (OTM) application,” said COL Edward Swanson, project manager for Army Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical’s (PEO C3T) Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) program. “Industry recognizes the importance of mobility to the Army on the battlefield and continues to develop and market solutions to improve the movement and maneuver war-fighting function.”

NIE 12.2, conducted this past spring at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., marked the first integration of the Army’s mobile satellite communication network, WIN-T Increment 2. The evaluation involved about 6,000 soldiers distributed over 2,000 miles and is thought to be the largest such Army test to date. The validation exercise led to Capability Set 13 for network capabilities, slated for fielding to eight Infantry Brigade Combat Teams in October. In addition to WIN-T 2, CS13 network capabilities include:

  • Joint Capabilities Release (JCR) Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P) -- an upgrade to Blue Force Tracking that enables soldiers on the move to communicate their positions.
  • Nett Warrior – a smart phone-size handheld worn by soldiers that is capable of running communication applications that connect from an individual’s unit to higher headquarters. This device connects to through the Joint Tactical Radio System (JRTS) Rifleman Radio.
  • JRTS Rifleman Radio – weighing in at only two pounds, this encrypted software-programmable radio relays voice and data (including text messages and GPS locations) from small units to the company level.
  • Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) Applique – this vehicle mounted single-channel radio connects the squad- and team-level Rifleman Radios to the tactical communication network and higher command. This radio is considered a technology stopgap until JTRS Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit (HMS) radios are fielded.
  • AN/PRC-117G – a commercial, off-the-shelf wireless radio that transmits voice and large amounts of data, such as biometrics, simultaneously.
    Mission Command Capabilities and Distributed Common Ground System – Army (DCGS-A) – an alignment of the battalion-level and above intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system with mission command applications.

Among the technology demonstrated at NIE 12.2 was the MCOTM communication device centerpiece: General Dynamics’ Joint Tactical Radio System JTRS HMS radios, which included both the AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio and the AN/PRC-155 Manpack networking radio.

The JTRS HMS Manpack is distinctive in that it has two channels and the ability to route and retransmit voice and data between the channels, much like consumer mobile networks do. The device operates on the Soldier Radio Waveform, the Wideband Networking Waveform and the Mobile User Objective System satellite-communications waveform, as well as the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System. Since the conclusion of NIE 12.2, the Army has placed a $54 million order for 13,000 Rifleman radios.

“The order for more PRC-154 radios ensures that the individual soldier is included in the big Army network. His voice can finally be heard, his message received and his position-location reported,” said Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems. “Equally important is the two-channel PRC-155 Manpack that allows commanders to talk to their team on one channel and on the second channel, simultaneously exchange information with higher headquarters.”

NIE 12.2 was also used as a proving ground for technology aimed at shoring up gaps in tactical router and company command post capabilities. Under evaluation, for example, was DTECH LABS’ Wolverine Tactical, Expeditionary, Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (TXC4), a tactical data gateway housed in a small, ruggedized sealed box that was installed on 17 vehicle mounts. The small business also tackled the company command post gap with its M3-SE family of routing devices. The TXC4 has been slated for evaluation at the next round of demonstrations (NIE 13.1), and DTECH is partnering with ITT Excelis to integrate its M3C4G baseband network suite with an embedded satellite modem.

The Army is grappling with defining the Company Command Post capability, according to one vendor. “It requires some decisions about what capabilities you’ll actually put in a smaller unit that has less capability to carry or maintain systems and also has to work in Spartan environments,” said Bill Guyan, vice president of strategy for DRS Network and Communications Solutions in Melbourne Fla. “We think that MCOTM architecture could also be the same architecture used for company command post,” he added.

Like many other NIE technology venders, DRS has focused on doing more with less. “What we’ve done is developed a new capability – the Data Distribution Unit multifunction box at the heart of the C4i4 architecture that acts as a router, server, distribution box for the data on the vehicle, and a crossbanding device for different radios,” Guyan said.  DRS addressed the Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) issue by consolidating up to five functions in a single ruggedized box, he added.

During NIE 13.2, which is scheduled to be held next May, the Army is looking to industry to fill the next level of capability gaps, which include:

  • Enhanced Command Post Collaboration and Visualization.
  • Company Information Architecture.
  • Network Operations Visualized in the Common Operating Picture. 
  • Aerial Layer Network/Air Ground Integration. 
  • Integrated Employment of LandWarNet Installation and Training Resources.
  • WIN-T Interoperable SATCOM and Ground-to-Ground Capability on Heavy Brigade Combat Team Maneuver Platforms.
  • Operational Energy.

"Previous [NIEs] allowed the Army to solidify the network baseline,” said BG Dan Hughes, director, System of Systems Integration Directorate. “We are now providing that baseline and the common operating environment to industry to allow them to build their systems and capabilities into the architecture.”

About the Author

Kimberly Johnson is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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