WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (August 12, 2014) — Who better to help evaluate recent improvements to Army’s mobile tactical network than the Soldiers who first deployed to Afghanistan with it?
“I worked with the system when it was first coming out and we fell in on it overseas,” said Sgt. Cody Lotter, multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer for 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 10th Mountain Division, or 4/10 MTN. “I see great improvement as far as capabilities and the timeframe it takes to set things up. It’s really interesting to see the feedback and collaboration that we are able to provide is actually taking effect.”
During the second of two key developmental tests on enhancements made to the Army’s high capacity, mobile network backbone, known as Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, nearly a third of the Soldiers who tested the system were from 4/10 MTN, which deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom with the system for nine months beginning in 2013. Not only did their experience in theater enable these Soldiers to provide a unique real world perspective on the new hardware and software changes, it was thanks to their unit’s feedback that the changes took place.
As the first unit to deploy to Afghanistan with WIN-T Increment 2 and other elements of the Army’s inaugural network Capability Set, 4/10 MTN has played a unique role in the evolution of the tactical network for the Army.
While unit leaders in theater dubbed CS 13 their “digital guardian angel” because of the enhanced force protection and situational awareness it provides, they have also provided detailed and constructive feedback to the Army on how to improve the capability for the future. The service has been using that feedback in an effort to make the current and future network more versatile and to help make communications systems easier for Soldiers to operate and maintain with less training and field support.
Among the many enhancements to WIN-T Increment 2 are drastically reduced startup and shutdown times; a new, easy to use graphical interface; improved and simplified troubleshooting tools; and the ability to make faster, easier calls to extend radio networks. The changes were aimed at making the system more accessible for the general purpose user, therefore improving its utility on the battlefield.
“When we first got the equipment in 2012 it was very complicated; it would take several steps for us to do what we had to do,” said Spc. Adalberto Montero, a signal support systems specialist for 2-30 Infantry Battalion, 4/10 MTN. “It’s very user-friendly now and easier for the infantrymen to use, and they are the ones who are going to operate it.”
Along with 4/10 MTN, Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Divisions also participated in the WIN-T Increment 2 Developmental Test 2 (DT2), which was conducted in coordination with multiple Department of Defense and Army organizations in the deserts and mountains of White Sands Missile Range, N.M., from June 9-27. The first developmental test was completed at the Aberdeen Test Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Md. in late February. During the DT2, Soldiers were on the move in their WIN-T Increment 2-equipped vehicles conducting a wide variety of realistic mission threads that included mock village reconnaissance, route clearance, key leader and enemy engagements, and calls for fire.
“WIN- T Increment 2 is a lot more user friendly and intuitive now,” said Spc. Christopher Glenn, a nodal network systems operator-maintainer for 2-30 Infantry Battalion, 4/10 MTN, who previously deployed with the system. “I am used to the technical side [of operations], but for the average user, it will be a lot easier to interface with this system. I see definite changes.”
WIN-T Increment 2 is the mobile network backbone of the Army’s capability sets, which provide integrated tactical communications connectivity for access to voice, data and video information across the BCT. Several BCTs, including 4/10 MTN, have been fielded with Capability Set (CS) 13 and have deployed to Afghanistan with the equipment to serve as Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs). These unique units operate in different configurations than a typical BCT to help execute the U.S. advise-and-assist mission and retrograde operations.
Following its Joint Readiness Training Center rotation, 4/10 MTN helped the Army customize the network to better support these unique SFAB missions.
The recent changes to WIN-T Increment 2 were a direct reflection of Soldier feedback from theater, Network Integration Evaluations and user juries and were designed to improve system reliability, simplicity and usability. WIN-T Increment 2’s network-equipped vehicles extend the network over vast distances and difficult terrain, serving as mobile network hotspots that deliver the communications and situational awareness commanders need to lead from anywhere on the battlefield. The recent improvements were made to the WIN-T Increment 2 Soldier Network Extension (SNE), which provides network communication and extension capabilities at the company level, and the Point of Presence (PoP), which enables mobile mission command at the battalion level and above.
“We had three months of training before we deployed and we used WIN-T Increment 2 the whole nine months we were deployed to Afghanistan,” said Sgt. Kenneth Dunbar, Bravo Troop 3/89 Cavalry, 4/10 MTN. “We took the SNE and the PoP out, but most of the time it was the SNE. A lot of times we had our squadron commander come out with us and it made it easy for him to send reports back. The phone, chat and TiGR [Tactical Ground Reporting] worked well. But the way that the system is now is a lot better. ”
Offering perspectives not just on system performance but also on how the network is fielded, trained and integrated into a unit’s operations, 4/10 MTN, along with other Army units, continues to provide contextually-based observations, insights, lessons-learned, and conclusions based upon their experiences with CS13 and associated operations. While deployed to Afghanistan, Soldiers from various units found themselves using WIN-T Increment 2 in non-traditional ways and offered feedback to the Army to highlight the versatility of the system and enable the Army to best improve and capitalize on its capabilities. Soldiers highlighted the need for network capability to be easier to operate and maintain by general purpose users, as well as the need for more dynamic network operations in support of unit task reorganization. The changes to WIN-T Increment 2 are a direct reflection that Soldier feedback and the Army plans to continue to apply Soldier input to improve simplicity, performance and versatility across all elements of the network.
“WIN-T Increment 2 is great and it’s come a long way,” Montero said. “I believe its going to grow, and as more units train on it, it will help the Army tremendously as far as situational awareness.”