Army’s Future Tactical Net Apt for High-Speed Combat

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Army will be spending at least $6 billion during the next 15 to 20 years to replace its outdated communications networks that link brigades to echelons above corps and national authorities.

The existing system—the mobile subscriber equipment tri-service tactical (MSE-Tritac)—is not adequate to meet the Army’s future needs, said officials, because it’s not mobile enough and relies on antiquated information technology.

The system that will replace the 25-year-old MSE-Tritac, additionally, will reach farther down in the chain of command, to battalion level. That is an important capability, officials said, because the Army wants to use communications technologies to streamline its command structure.

Next January, the Army plans to release a request for industry proposals for the so-called Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T). Two contractor teams would be selected in late 2002 to pursue a three-year development effort. A single contractor will be chosen in 2005 for the production of WIN-T. The Army expects the system to be in operation by 2008.

If it stays on schedule, WIN-T would completely replace MSE by 2020. The Army fielded 4,500 MSE systems worldwide between 1987 and 1993. Its expected lifespan was 15 years.

In a nutshell, WIN-T is about “high-bandwidth communications on the move,” said Maj. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, the Army’s director of programs and architecture, for command, control, communications and computers. Previously, Boutelle was the program executive officer for command, control and computer systems. That office is responsible for the WIN-T program.

With MSE-Tritac, “We reached a point of diminishing returns,” Boutelle said in an interview. Radios can be replaced, but the reality is that, “MSE was designed for fixed operations,” Boutelle said. “It is not mobile enough, it is too structured, does not have the capacity for the new technologies.”

That is a problem for an Army that wants to be more mobile and less dependent on hard wiring for battlefield communications.

With WIN-T, said Boutelle, the Army will be able to take advantage of modern information technologies that are widely available to civilians, such as streaming video, high-resolution graphics, overhead imagery and web-based logistics.

The Army has been working for several years on the development of “tactical internets” for its so-called digitized brigades. In a tactical internet, vehicles are equipped with computers that display a common tactical picture, and commanders can see the location of the forces in real time. That technology, said Boutelle, “works very well at the lowest level—in individual vehicles, squads, platoons, companies, battalions.” It is the same technology that allows a taxi company dispatcher to track the location of each vehicle, so he can send the cab closest to the person requesting one. “The dispatcher has a map just like we do,” said Boutelle. “What we are doing has been done commercially.”

The Army’s lower tactical internet primarily is composed of voice and data radios connected to each other. WIN-T would be the “upper tactical internet,” a high-bandwidth mobile system for voice, video and data exchange.

The lower-level networks do not cover enough territory, which limits the Army’s ability to expand its area of responsibility, explained Boutelle. “As you stress the [tactical] internet across the surface of the earth, especially in the mountains,” communications signals get fractured. In mountainous areas, such as the Balkans, the only way to get around that problem is to install relay packages on mountaintops, unmanned aircraft or satellites. With WIN-T, he said, those systems would be tied together and connected to the brigade, division, the joint commanders and the national authorities. That requires communications systems with much longer range, most likely a combination of satellite and terrestrial technologies, said Boutelle.

The area of responsibility for an Army division is 120x200 km. By comparison, during the Civil War, the Army would put a brigade’s worth of soldiers in an area 200 meters long.

At the National Training Center today, said Boutelle, a brigade covers an area that a division covered five years ago.

Unlike most other Army acquisition programs, WIN-T will be based on commercial technologies. Contractors will be asked to design the system and propose commercially-based architectures for command, control, communications and data processing. “We are asking them to address battalion communications all the way to echelons above corps,” said Boutelle. The networks will have to operate while the battalions are on the move, in environments where there is no line of sight. The key to the success of this program, he said, is to “buy systems—in an architecture—that don’t get obsolete by the time you deliver them.”

In WIN-T, he said, “everything that gets off the ground should be considered a relay.” That includes unmanned aircraft, aerostat balloons, other air-breathing platforms, lower orbit, medium and geo-stationary satellites. “Industry should recommend the optimum solution,” said Boutelle. “It needs to be a mix.”

As WIN-T comes along, he added, “we will see ABCS evolve.” The Army Battle Command Systems (ABCS) is a collection of command-and-control software programs that provide mission planners access to sources of battlefield information, including, maneuver, logistics, fire support, combat services support, air defense, intelligence, electronic warfare, terrain and weather.

“ABCS has moved from heavy workstations to light workstations, to commercial notebook computers,” said Boutelle. “It will continue to get smaller and faster.”

The technologies in WIN-T are “key for transformation,” said Boutelle. Transformation for the Army means being able to deploy quickly and to communicate seamlessly with the other services. “WIN-T is the Army component of the global information grid,” he said.

Satellite Communications
One of the most challenging technologies that the Army wants in WIN-T is mobile satellite-communications systems.

“We don’t have wireless on the move at high data rate,” said Louis Marquet, director of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Center, at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

The Army has large satellite terminals, fixed installations that provide wideband capabilities. There are also local fiber-optic networks. “The challenge we have is the 200 km connection between the fiber and the deployed force,” Marquet said in an interview. In the future, he said, “our force must be mobile and the information [must] flow on the move, without having to stop to set up antennas.”

Like Boutelle, Marquet promotes the concept of a ground network that includes airborne communications relays, such as unmanned aircraft. Satellites alone are not the answer, he explained, because they have a limited capability and are vulnerable to jamming and anti-satellite attacks. “The answer is a network of communication relays, based on UAVs.”

The tactical internet that the Army has in place today is a network of radios and computers mounted on ground vehicles. It does not include UAVs. To get around elevated hills, the Army has to install relay stations on mountaintops. The upshot, said Marquet, is that “you may not own the mountaintops. ... To be movable, you don’t want to have to set up an installation on the side of the mountain.”

Marquet would like to see the WIN-T program push the development of electronic steerable antennas, a technology that the Army does not have, because it’s too expensive. “We need steerable antennas that are dynamically, rapidly controlled, to direct the energy in a given direction,” said Marquet.

His office currently oversees a program to develop Internet protocols for moving networks. Such protocols, said Marquet, “will be necessary for WIN-T.” Protocols address, for example, user authentication, data rates and network security.

The program is called Mosaic (multifunctional on-the-move secure adaptive integrated communications). In 2004, the program will seek to demonstrate a mobile network with quality of service.

Internet protocol quality-of-service mechanisms help overcome problems such as jamming and network mobility, said Ken A. Peterman, marketing director at Rockwell Collins Government Systems. The company received a contract under the Mosaic program to work on these technologies.

ITT Industries’ communications division also is working on an “advanced network test bed” for the Mosaic program, said Stan Griswold Jr., from ITT. “We demonstrated a network of 10,000 nodes,” he told National Defense.

Both the WIN-T and the Mosaic programs will contribute to the development of the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS), said Marquet. This next-generation vehicle has not been designed yet, but the Army already has said it wants every platform to be part of a high-bandwidth digital network.

“There is going to be an interesting interface between WIN-T and FCS,” Marquet said. The battalion is likely to become the basic maneuver unit for the FCS, so WIN-T will be the communications network.

So far, three prime contractors have emerged as strong players in the WIN-T competition. TRW Inc. leads a team of companies that includes ITT Industries, L-3 Communications, Qualcomm and Raytheon.

Another competitor will be Lockheed Martin Mission Systems, which has been working on a WIN-T proposal for several months, said Ed Shanahan, the company’s director of Army communications.

The Army, said Shanahan, “has gone a long way in allowing industry to shape what this thing is going to look like. They have not been very prescriptive.” Lockheed Martin still is in negotiations with potential partners. One of the technologies that the company has been promoting for WIN-T is a so-called electronic tactical operations center (E-TOC), a piece of software that provides access to the ABCS from small PCs or handheld computers. “We need to get information to the soldier level,” said Shanahan.

Competing as a WIN-T prime contractor against TRW and Lockheed will be General Dynamics Communications Systems. A company spokeswoman declined to provide details on subcontractor or teaming arrangements.

Other companies that could join the fray—but have not announced their plans—are Boeing Government Information and Communications Systems and Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems sector.

There could be significant realignment of industry teams between now and the January RFP, said Peterman, from Rockwell Collins. “As the teams reform, we expect to be a strong participant,” he said.

Thales Communications, Inc. also expects to be involved in WIN-T, said Felix J. Boccadoro, the company’s director of business development. WIN-T, he said, will require a handheld radio with top-secret encryption. “This is our specialty, so you will most likely see us on one or more of the teams for WIN-T.”

Topics: Combat Vehicles, Unmanned Air Vehicles, Acquisition Programs, Battlefield Communications

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