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Innovations Shape LandWarNet

July 15, 2008
by Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

The U.S. Army’s LandWarNet program is reinventing itself as it progresses toward its goal of full connectivity from the command level down to the individual soldier. Technologies deployed in support of warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan are leading to changes in the overarching program, and capabilities introduced by the private sector are adding a new flavor to the Army’s contribution to the Global Information Grid.

Numerous application and system advancements have been introduced into the theater of operations, and they are the focal point of many of the Army’s LandWarNet modifications. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, USA, Army Chief Information Officer (CIO)/G-6, states that these advances are changing the communications infrastructure for LandWarNet along with the type of data and applications it is providing.

Gen. Sorenson warrants that LandWarNet is how the Army is going to communicate in the future. From the standpoint of the warfighter in Iraq or Afghanistan, LandWarNet is all about improving situational awareness. The Army has introduced data and radio transport systems—such as Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) and Blue Force Tracking—that have improved situational awareness.

Now, the Army is introducing the command post of the future, which addresses collaboration capabilities for soldiers from the tactical edge up to higher levels such as corps and above. The new capabilities are used to generate battle update briefs on a daily basis, the general reports. All levels of the force see the same picture.

The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), which includes the Joint Network Node (JNN), has contributed to this improved situational awareness picture. Secure points of presence (SPOPs) placed in theater outposts allow company commanders to have the same digital situational awareness experienced by division commanders. A host of new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are contributing to this picture.      

The incremental strategy used to fold the JNN into the WIN-T program is a road map for success, the general notes. Planners can incorporate new technologies and expand their capabilities while keeping their eyes on the goal of implementation in an overarching program such as the Future Combat Systems (FCS) or Transformational Satellite.

Other ongoing programs are influencing LandWarNet. The Land Warrior program passed Milestone C and was deployed in theater with a brigade. Gen. Sorenson reports that it has received strong reviews from the soldiers who used it. With Land Warrior’s funding expired, the Army has transitioned its effort into the Ground Soldier System in FCS. Many of the lessons learned in Land Warrior are migrating into the Ground Soldier System, and this includes the handheld solution from the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program.

But the biggest challenge remains getting the right information into the soldiers’ hands, Gen. Sorenson declares. One issue involves which applications are provided at which levels. He cites the experiences gleaned from Land Warrior in which the system was deployed in operational tests to every single soldier. Team and squad leaders agreed that the system was a welcome addition, but individual soldiers complained that they were being overwhelmed with information.

Another issue is bandwidth, and this affects how many applications are provided to the squad or team leader. Currently, situational awareness information can be migrated down to the squad and team leader, but lower levels still rely on FM communications. The Army has not yet reached the point where its networking is Internet protocol (IP)-based all the way down to the soldier level, the general concedes.

To address bandwidth at the tactical level, the Army is looking at compression technologies that traditionally have been applied at the enterprise level.

The Army’s new network service center (NSC) concept is a key to LandWarNet, the general states. Currently, when soldiers deploy from garrison into theater, they must reconfigure their communications and computer systems and services. But when NSCs are implemented—possibly as soon as two to three years—they will allow soldiers to maintain their connectivity with little more than a digital hiccup.

In Iraq, the Army is standing up warfighting forums, or WfFs, to exchange information across the Army. These forums are using Web 2.0 tools to exchange information on tactics, techniques and procedures in real time. Gen. Sorenson notes that contractors can use these Web 2.0 forums to acquire a better understanding of the soldiers’ needs.

One of the greatest needs is to have the JTRS fielded, the general says. It will be critical to what the Army is trying to accomplish with an everything-over-IP (EoIP) network.

The Army also needs to consolidate its data systems. While the service has reduced the number from 3,000 to about 1,300, it still has “way too many systems functioning with what we need to do,” the general offers.

Another area that needs work is the network’s aerial layer. While the Army has progressed with its satellite links, applications demands still outstrip the capacity of even the newest communications orbiters. The Army has not yet even determined the architecture for an aerial layer that might comprise UAVs and aerostats.

AFCEA International is sponsoring the 2008 LandWarNet Conference, August 19-21, Broward County Convention Center, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The 2008 LandWarNet Conference is the premier forum to bring government and industry together to openly communicate commercial best business practices and government implementations.