Army Battlefield Network: Winners and Losers
By Sandra I. Erwin
The Army will equip two war-bound brigades this fall with itslatest mobile networking technology. In an Army that for a decade has struggled with failed procurement programs, the upcoming deployment is a make-or-break moment for military buyers. If the equipment works as advertised, it will be seen as a sign that Army procurement officials have learned from past mistakes and are becoming smarter shoppers.
The wireless systems that the two brigades are slated to receive will let commanders roam around the battlefield in armored trucks that function like command centers, rather than being constrained to a fixed site. Platoon and squad leaders also will have unprecedented access to live streaming video from overhead surveillance aircraft, and will be able to tap into the military’s tactical Internet via handheld computers and smartphones.
The first network package, called Capability Set 13, will be fielded beginning in October to units in the 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne Division. The plan is to equip up to eight infantry brigades by the end of 2013. Six more brigades will be in line for Capability Set 14 in two years.
As with any big-ticket military procurement — the Army requested $2 billion for “the network” in fiscal year 2013 — some will win, and some will lose.
WIN-T Increment 2
The War Fighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) is by far the most expensive piece of the network, with nearly a billion dollars requested in fiscal year 2013. Made by General Dynamics Corp., it is essentially the soldier’s Internet, providing the tactical communications backbone to which other networked systems need to connect in order to function. WIN-T Increment 1, currently fielded to more than 90 percent of the force, provides satellite-based, beyond line of sight voice, video and data down to the battalion level. Increment 2 is a major upgrade that will introduce mission command on the move, allowing soldiers to communicate continuously inside tactical vehicles. It will also extend satellite communications to the company level. Each brigade will have 50 WIN-T increment 2 systems installed aboard mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) trucks.
Blue Force Trackers
Commanders will track troops’ location with GPS enabled Joint Capabilities Release (JCR), an upgraded version of the widely used Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking, developed by Northrop Grumman Corp. FBCB2/BFT allows soldiers in vehicles, aircraft and command posts to identify the location of friendly forces and exchange messages in order to synchronize operations and avoid fratricide.
Nett Warrior is a soldier-worn, smartphone-like mission command system running various mission apps. These handhelds will be fielded to team leaders and above, allowing them to communicate seamlessly within their units and with higher headquarters. These devices will connect to the Army’s larger tactical communications network through the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Rifleman Radio that can transmit voice and data such as text messages, GPS locations and photos. The Army last year axed the Nett Warrior program after soldiers complained that, at 14 pounds, it was too bulky and heavy. A slimmed-down version received positive reviews, and the Army now plans to buy 600.
The Rifleman Radio, made by General Dynamics Corp., is a two-pound device that is carried by platoon, squad and team-level soldiers for voice communications, and can also connect with handheld devices to transmit text messages, GPS locations and other data. It had a rocky start as part of the larger Joint Tactical Radio System program, but is now seen as a key component to building the ground-level lower tactical network that connects the most communication disadvantaged users -- the small unit down to the individual soldier. The Army will buy approximately 1,400 Rifleman Radios per brigade.
Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) Appliqué is a single-channel, vehicle-mounted radio. It runs the Joint Tactical Radio System soldier radio waveform, and transmits information between the squad and team-level JTRS Rifleman Radio and the Army’s larger tactical communications network. The Army plans to buy approximately 5,000 of the vehicle-mounted radios. SRW Appliqué is regarded as an interim solution until the two-channel, vehicle-mounted component of the JTRS family of radios is completed.
The AN/PRC-117G radio, made by Harris RF Communications, also is an interim replacement for the JTRS ground mobile radio that was terminated last year as a result of massive cost overruns. It can transmit voice and data, allowing troops to exchange large amounts of information such as video and biometrics. It connects small units with forces at company-level and above. In September 2011, the Army awarded Harris a $66 million contract to equip eight brigades with the AN/PRC-117G. Radios for brigades beyond the first eight will be selected in a Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio competition.
Distributed Common Ground System - Army
DCGS-A is the Army’s digital hub for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, in addition to mission command applications for maneuver, fire support, situational awareness, airspace management, air defense and sustainment. It creates a common architecture and infrastructure: hardware, services and applications. The nearly $3 billion programcame under fire last year when a senior official questioned its utility. But the Army has stood by the system and plans to invest significant funding to upgrade it.
Non-Programs of Record
Although the Armyoverhauled its procurement process in order to open up the market to nontraditional suppliers and commercial vendors, most of what the service plans to buy over the next several years will be existing “programs of record.” Many companies had expected the Army tospurn JTRS hardware and software in favor of off-the-shelf technologies. But the Army’s network procurement strategy relies heavily on JTRS technology and on other big-ticket programs of record such as WIN-T and DCGS-A. “The preponderance of what is in Capability Set 13 are previous programs of record,” said Brig. Gen. John Morrison, director of Army LandWarNet and mission command. The Nett Warrior system, which was on the verge of termination, also has survived. In fact, much of the technology in Capability Set 13 is the offspring of a $4 billion program the Army terminated, known as the Early-Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The EIBCT was widely derided for its unattended sensors and robots that didn’t work as intended.
Light Skinned vehicles
When the Army first began planning its mobile tactical network, the communications, command and control equipment was expected to be installed aboard Humvee trucks. But the vehicle proved to be too vulnerable to roadside bombs and small arms attacks, so the Army opted to build the network hubs on MRAP trucks. The next phase of the network modernization plan is to equip the heavy force — Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and Abrams main battle tanks — with WIN-T increment 2. “We don’t want our armored formations to be at a disadvantage,” Morrison told a recent industry meeting. “We were going to put all these mission command capabilities on the Humvees. Now we know we are never going to fight from a Humvee again.”
Tech Support Contractors
Every time the Army has shipped new radios and other communications gear to Iraq and Afghanistan, it hired associated armies of support contractors to help install, maintain and fix the equipment. For that, “we paid a significant premium,” said Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, commander of Army Test and Evaluation Command.Under the new procurement regime, the Army is testing new technology and fixing the bugs at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in brigade-size experiments. It also has built a laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to test software. The upshot will be far fewer “field service representatives” from the private sector in combat zones. “It’s far more cost effective to figure out” the problems at White Sands than in theater, Dellarocco said June 28 during a Pentagon news conference. “We can attack those integration issues stateside” and save considerable funds, he said. The first two brigades that will receive Capability Set 13 will need some contractor support to set up thousands of pieces of hardware, including radios, displays, routers, cables and switches. “It’s a monumental task to put it together,” said Col. Dan Hughes, Army director of system of systems integration. When new equipment is fielded, some contractors will be needed to help soldiers learn the systems, but the long-term plan is to transition most tech support services to uniformed military.