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Innovations Shape LandWarNet

August 2008
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

 
A U.S. Army staff sergeant communicates with other forces while another soldier provides security during a mission in Iraq. Technologies introduced into Iraq and Afghanistan are changing the Army’s LandWarNet.
Technologies sent to Southwest Asia return to compel changes.

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. Even Web 2.0 capabilities are coming into play as they resolve long-standing problems and offer radically new ways of development.

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. The transparency of information, the beginning of standardized common operational pictures and the onset of better situational awareness have all helped the warfighter and changed LandWarNet, the general declares.

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) is contributing to this picture. As many as 2,400 UAVs are providing streaming video feeds from their bird’s-eye vantage point over Iraq.

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. This also prevents the force from incorporating a capability that ultimately becomes a stovepipe that industry has left behind.

The Army is using its Central Technical Support Facility (CTSF) in Fort Hood, Texas, as a system gateway, the general says. The CTSF can help determine which technologies or capabilities can integrate into the current suite of capabilities. Yet problems still arise when contractors or laboratories focus on providing functionality to satisfy Army needs without considering the system-of-systems approach.

Gen. Sorenson cites the example of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Tactical Ground Reporting System, or TIGR. It offered a tremendous capability, but it was a stand-alone system with its own servers and database. Because it did not integrate into any other system, it required manual datalinks to interoperate with other Army systems. Army experts are trying to integrate it into the Army network.

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. The Army is striving to deploy it quickly along with the Ground Mobile Radio.

The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) capability will be a substantial addition to Army communications, Gen. Sorenson offers. The Army is working on the form factor for the MUOS handheld system, and the JTRS program is working to move that MUOS waveform into its handheld unit.

Considerable activity is taking place in the datalink arena. The general relates that the Army is seeing more requirements to link UAVs that are streaming video down to a single ground station as opposed to multiple ground stations.

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.

“As I look at it, it’s almost analogous to what has taken place with cell phones over time,” he says. “Initially, a cell phone was something to talk with. Then they put in the camera, and now you can begin to get video and do banking. Where industry continues to build out the infrastructure and then define those applications that can ride on it, the military has come at it by saying, ‘we’re all into the application, now we have to figure out the transport layer.’”

 
The optics on this Army robot can be controlled remotely by a soldier wearing a headset that resembles a pair of eyeglasses. By moving his head, the soldier moves the optics. Improved situational awareness is a key to LandWarNet’s goals, according to Gen. Sorenson.
To address bandwidth at the tactical level, the Army is looking at compression technologies that traditionally have been applied at the enterprise level. As more information is pushed down the line, solutions used at higher levels can have utility. Reducing the size of data packets may facilitate the transport of information down to lower levels. Gen. Sorenson also cites radio technologies that search for available spectrum as another potential bandwidth solution. The Army already is using point-to-point terrestrial systems in some forward operating bases.

“We have a network that continues to move, in terms of combat operations,” he observes. “How do we make that functional to satisfy the needs of the soldier?”

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—as many as three times. Shifting capabilities such as bandwidth, data storage and network access complicate that task. 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 (see page 24).

“What we’re trying to do through the NSC concept is to emulate what you have today with your cell phone,” Gen. Sorenson says. Not only would an individual soldier be able to keep his or her communication capabilities throughout the deployment process, the entire unit also would be able to plug into all of its services. The NSC would create an agnostic capability and infrastructure that would be transparent to the user no matter where a unit was located. The result would be “a Google cloud effect” wherever soldiers traveled, he analogizes.

In Iraq, the Army is standing up warfighting forums, or WfFs, to exchange information across the Army. A WfF for the heavy brigade combat team sponsored by III Corps is exchanging collaboration on its style of warfighting. Another WfF for the infantry brigade combat team is sponsored by the 18th Airborne Corps, and a sustainment WfF is being run out of the Army’s Combined Arms Support Command, or CASCOM.

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. “In the not-too-distant future, this is going to revolutionize how we bring the requirements process to a point where we can develop [systems] much more quickly and get the needs of the soldiers satisfied,” he predicts.

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. Further consolidation is necessary.

Data relationships are a problem. Gen. Sorenson allows that with the Army’s work on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, it still must avoid re-creating what it used to have in the tactical environment. That situation featured a series of different systems that could not exchange data horizontally. The result was a matching number of replicated databases internal to each system. The advent of FCS with its service-oriented architecture backbone will help avoid that trap, but many of the ERP systems are stovepipe solutions that are not integrated fully.

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.

Web Resource
Army CIO/G-6: www.army.mil/ciog6
Future Combat Systems: www.fcs.army.mil

Network Service Centers Are A Microcosm of LandWarNet

At the heart of LandWarNet are its planned network service centers. When these configurations are built, they will serve as data, security and routing centers that enable soldiers to deploy their communications networking from location to location seamlessly.

The network service center (NSC) is LandWarNet in that it represents the architecting of the entire network, says Gary L. Winkler, program executive officer for Enterprise Information Systems. “It is essential to making sure that the Army efficiently and effectively can conduct its mission.

“So much of the Army mission now is network-based, we need to make sure we have an operationally effective and efficient network—and that’s what the NSC is,” he emphasizes.

He adds that it enables expeditionary activities as well as establishes an Army enterprise activity within the joint enterprise. “I look at the NSC as the next evolution of LandWarNet,” he observes.

“What we’re trying to construct here with the NSC program is the Army’s communications and computing infrastructure,” Winkler maintains. “If we do it correctly, then as applications and technology evolve, we are in a plug-and-play environment. Interoperability, end-to-end mission support—across regions, across the globe and across functional domains—should be much more seamless,” he declares.

“It gives us the flexibility we need for the future, which none of us can predict right now.”

 
The Army has flooded the skies over Iraq with unmanned aerial vehicles, such as this model built by Northrop Grumman. More than 2,000 UAVs are providing streaming video to forces on the ground.
The NSC is an outgrowth of the Army’s area processing center (APC), Winkler notes. APCs were developed in the transition from server consolidation to data center consolidation. The Army stood up two APCs in partnership with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in Columbus, Ohio, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Users are being migrated to those two sites. But the increasing demands of network centricity have forced the Army to take a larger view of its network support beyond that of data centers.

The NSC deals with the Army’s worldwide computing and communication infrastructures. Winkler relates that the interoperation of the various components of LandWarNet was a key determinant in opting for the NSC approach. Along with an APC, an NSC comprises a fixed regional hub node and a theater network operations and security center (TNOSC). These elements must interact with each other and with Army network users. The APC focuses on computing infrastructure, in particular optimizing performance, storage and regional service delivery. A TNOSC focuses on network operations.

Winkler explains that the NSC effort blends several existing programs along with new initiatives. So, the Army has rechartered the Defense Communications and Army Switched Systems program to provide the program manager for the NSC. The CIO/G-6, G-3 and Installation Management Command and the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management are working to develop the requirements and acquisition strategy for the NSC program.

Amid this planning, the Army is looking at fielding between five and 10 NSCs. In addition to the Army’s master force plan, these NSCs would be determined by user needs and capabilities, user populations, and existing capabilities for step-sites and teleports. Planners also need to establish whether to build from the global level to the regional level, or to build deep region by region. The two existing APCs would be folded into NSCs.

The NSC will provide enhanced security in large part because it provides fewer network entry and exit points to the Global Information Grid requiring defense. The network also will have standardized security architectures, products and processes, and these will not vary among installations as they do currently. Experts at a TNOSC will be able to protect the entry points and discover anomalous activities—and shut them down—far more easily than can be done now.

These new security approaches will bring considerable cultural changes, Winkler admits. Personnel who are used to controlling their own part of LandWarNet will be ceding much of that control. The new APCs already are changing the culture, he notes, and the NSC effort will accelerate that change throughout every Army organization. In the past, commanders could ensure that their users had good performance by controlling their own networks. To allay those fears, the NSC program must communicate to the end user how it will improve the user experience many times over, Winkler adds.

The Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command, or NETCOM, is operating and maintaining the two APCs. Through those two centers, the Army is learning how to transition users from their locally based infrastructure to the regionally based configuration. This can entail migrating users from one set of system hardware and applications to another.

The biggest challenge facing NSC implementation is its broad reach. Many different organizations are involved in its planning, and their efforts must be coordinated, Winkler allows. “Technology is never the challenge,” he says, adding that funding also is a challenge.

He believes that the program has a good operational architecture that establishes user need. When a user moves from one post to another anywhere in the world, that user should be able to plug in without any visible changes. The architecture is 100-percent synchronized, and it is built for redundancy so it has no single points of failure or critical nodes.

Winkler reports that the Army will begin implementing NSCs “in earnest” in fiscal year 2009, which opens in two months. NSC implementation could go in either of two directions, depending on how the Army sets budget priorities, he notes. These alternative courses of action also depend on budgeting through 2015. If the Army budgets NSC implementation in an unconstrained plan, NSC fielding could be completed in as soon as three years, Winkler suggests.