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WIN-T Marches Forward

July 2012
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Magazine
E-mail About the Author

 
A U.S. Army truck carrying Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 equipment rolls down a snow-covered Alaskan road as part of testing the system’s on-the-move capabilities in cold weather natural environments (CWNET).
The U.S. Army’s sector of the Global Information Grid takes its next step with on-the-move communications capabilities.

The multiyear evolutionary program that weaves a web of information around soldiers is entering the on-the-move communications phase. With at-the-quick-halt networking firmly in place, the latest capabilities extend communications to the brigade combat team and division levels. More importantly, they have been created with both legacy and not-yet-known future technologies in mind.

Although the “I” in the U.S. Army’s Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T) program stands for information, it justifiably could stand for incremental. When work on WIN-T began in 2002, it was structured much like many communications acquisition programs in the military. However, to address a Nunn-McCurdy breach in 2007, the Army restructured the program into increments. The Nunn-McCurdy amendment to the 1982 Defense Authorization Act requires that Congress be notified when program costs exceed 15 percent of an original cost estimate.

The Joint Network Node (JNN), which delivers at-the-halt networking through commercial satellites, became WIN-T Increment 1 in 2004. Although limited to the Ku-band, it addressed communication capabilities gaps identified from the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The beyond-line-of-sight communications the JNN provides increased units’ ability to operate autonomously (SIGNAL Magazine, September 2005, page 65).

To introduce the advanced capabilities into the field more quickly, the first step was segmented into increments 1a and 1b. The former adds Ka-band defense Wideband Global Satellite access to the commercial satellite usage, decreasing cost and increasing networking flexibility. The latter includes the Net-Centric Waveform, which optimizes bandwidth, and features a colorless core security architecture to meet information assurance requirements (SIGNAL Magazine, April 2009, page 43).

Although Increment 1a fielding is not scheduled to be fully complete until August 2012, WIN-T Increment 2 already has begun preparing for its scheduled 2013 battlespace debut. This May, the Army conducted the initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) work in conjunction with the network integration evaluation (NIE) 12.2 event.

While based at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the IOT&E included participants from the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas; 101st Air Assault Division headquarters at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and the Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, with a regional hub located at Fort Hood, Texas. More than 4,000 personnel took part in the WIN-T Increment 2 examination, which lasted more than two weeks.

Col. Edward J. Swanson, USA, WIN-T’s project manager, explains that as with all IOT&Es for equipment headed into the field, this multilocational event tested Increment 2 systems’ operational effectiveness, suitability and survivability. With the exception of the Sustainment Brigade at Fort Riley, all of the units were equipped with Increment 2 systems. Because sustainment brigades depend on mobile communications to a lesser degree than brigade combat teams, the Fort Riley soldiers used Increment 1b systems during the test and evaluation activities. Demonstrating interoperability among Increment 1a, 1b and 2 components was among the activities that took place during the IOT&E event in May, Col. Swanson relates.

“Increment 2 is probably the key part to what the Army is calling Capability Set 13 fielding,” the colonel states. The capability set includes vehicles and network components as well as associated equipment and software that deliver integrated voice and data throughout the brigade combat team formation for the first time (see page 25).

Because WIN-T systems are and will be introduced over time to different units, interoperability has been of utmost importance during WIN-T development. While some units already have been experimenting with Increment 2 capabilities, many field units still are using Increment 1a equipment and will continue to do so for some time. Col. Swanson explains that what equipment each unit receives, what capabilities it is given, as well as when those are received, largely depend on the role each fulfills during operations. As a result, some Army officials have come to call the current—and most likely immediate future—networking state a “hybrid.”

“The last thing you want to do is deploy equipment that is not interoperable; you’re burdening commanders in theater with trying to solve interoperability challenges. One of the big objectives for the NIE for the Army is to solve those interoperability challenges at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, not in theater,” Col. Swanson states.

Because it is an Internet protocol network, WIN-T should be interoperable with the Army’s radios as well as other services’ communications equipment, the colonel adds.

Lt. Col. Robert Collins, USA, product manager, WIN-T Increment 2, relates that both increments 1 and 2 recently completed the rigors of the Joint Interoperability Test Command and were certified. Interoperability certification tests at the Central Technical Support Facility at Fort Hood ensured that the WIN-T systems of increments 1b and 2 interoperate with the Army’s legacy systems, he adds.

Col. Swanson explains that while access to Increment 2 features includes mobility as well as increased capacity and capability on the terrestrial level, Increment 3 will extend these same benefits by bringing in airborne assets. Unmanned aerial vehicles sporting Increment 3 payloads will extend the line-of-sight communications network as well as improve the reliability of networking throughout WIN-T. “We call this ‘thickening of the network,’” he notes.

Although WIN-T Increment 2 introduces the communications on-the-move capability, the end-state of Increment 3 is complete networking while on the move. This next phase will include the joint command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) radio, which extends single-channel communications—ground-to-ground—to two channels by adding the ground-to-air capability. In addition, the Net-Centric Waveform of Increment 2 will be developed further in WIN-T’s third increment, so both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight communications will be fielded as part of Increment 3, Col. Swanson allows.

Perhaps of most significance to the ground soldier is Increment 2’s ease of use, he adds. While WIN-T’s initial components still required some signaleer expertise to operate, one goal of the latest increment’s development is to ensure not only that the equipment does not require special training to operate but also that whatever training is required is provided to soldiers who operate at the tactical edge.

The Army’s decision to proceed with WIN-T in increments facilitates industry involvement in the program, Col. Swanson says. The interoperability testing and network integration taking place at Fort Bliss as well in other locations enables the Army to incorporate appropriate commercial solutions that fill capabilities gaps into the WIN-T program of record faster.

 

An operator wearing the Army-issued extended cold weather clothing system, or ECWCS, works with WIN-T Increment 2 equipment during the January 2012 CWNET test in Alaska. WIN-T developers had to design the systems so warfighters—not just signaleers—could maintain the equipment even while wearing thick gloves and with partially obscured vision.

“First, you have the fact that technology is moving so quickly, and then you have the testing, which takes time. No matter how quickly technology and testing takes place, it still takes time, and during that time, technology isn’t standing still,” he observes.

New capabilities not only require testing but also must address the development of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities, or DOTMLPF, before or immediately after fielding. “If you’re going to create technology that will be out there for years, you have to make sure it’s all right at the beginning,” he states.

The Army’s element of the military’s Global Information Grid has experienced some delays since it began a decade ago, and the switch from what Col. Collins calls “the Big Bang” initially planned to the incremental approach has not been the only reason. Some “facts of life” adjustments to the original schedule were made to address urgent needs. For example, the military’s priorities shifted to combating improvised explosive devices in 2009, which caused the Army to reprioritize funding and reschedule WIN-T work.

“Testing [of WINT-T Increment 2] was supposed to occur last fall, but we decided to move the IOT&E to coincide with NIE 12.2. This pushed the full-rate production decision to the latter part of this year. As always, there’s some funding risk, and we’ve been trying to mitigate that through coordination. So from that perspective, we’re still marching toward the original timeline for the acquisition decision memorandum for WIN-T Increment 2,” Col. Collins relates.

This scheduling shift to the right, as the military calls it, also affects WIN-T’s Increment 3; however, time saved during fiscal years 2010 and 2011 will result in only a slight delay. Rather than introducing the third increment in 2015 as planned, it is more likely that the first units will be equipped with it in late 2016 or early 2017, he adds.

One of the lessons learned from these delays includes viewing the WIN-T project from a requirements perspective. “We must conduct due diligence upfront to make sure we’re going after the right capabilities,” Col. Collins says.

Another of the learned lessons over the incremental work involves testing. Col. Collins believes additional efficiencies could be incorporated to reduce the time it takes to introduce capabilities into the field. “We have to determine how much is adequate,” he states.

Increment 2 testing must be different than previous increments’ analysis because the systems will be implanted on combat platforms such as Stryker and mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. In addition, the second increment features new satellite communications components. So, unlike in the past, the developers had to consider weight and space restrictions and power requirements during the design phase—another lesson learned, Col. Collins allows.

Despite these issues, the WIN-T program already has been successful in supporting troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Col. Swanson relates. Increment 1 capabilities were deployed in both countries and included the introduction of some equipment that was not part of programs of record. These comprise additional satellite equipment such as Phoenix transportable tactical satellite communications terminals and the secret and nonsecure Internet protocol networks access points (SNAP). More than 600 SNAP units currently are deployed at small units in forward bases.

“These units were not able to operate autonomously before, but the SNAP equipment allows them to operate autonomously,” the colonel explains. In the future, WIN-T will address mobile communications for these units and, integrating commercial equipment, put this capability into the tactical environment, he adds.

Col. Collins says the Verizon commercial that shows an entire crew following an individual cellphone user is a fair analogy for the Army’s vision of WIN-T’s future. “The entire mobile infrastructure is put together for that handheld device. The individual has the network behind him,” he relates.

One of the largest challenges the WIN-T team has overcome during development has been creating systems that operate in harsh environments, Col. Swanson offers. To test its solutions, the Army tested the Increment 2 systems in Alaska in January. The colonel admits that it took some time to ensure the equipment was ready, but during the testing it performed as promised in temperatures as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Soldiers had to make the system operate while wearing cold-weather uniforms and gloves. So they had to be able to operate and maintain the equipment at those temperatures. That’s very challenging, and Increment 2 has passed all of those tests, but it’s taken some time to build up the reliability and the different components. When we field it, we must make sure it is as simple as possible to operate for soldiers,” he states.

Increment 3 testing and development is “going well,” Col. Swanson says, but in what promises to be a financially austere environment for the military, the Army must continue to stress the importance of tactical communications to the effectiveness of operations. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s peacekeeping or high-intensity combat operations or anything in between; the one constant need is reliable and effective communications,” he states.

While he believes funding for WIN-T will continue as planned, Col. Swanson is wise enough to know that urgent operational needs or changes in force structure could stretch the program’s schedule. “I don’t think any program is totally safe,” he admits.

The colonels agree that the WIN-T team looks to industry for support in two primary areas when developing new solutions and network operations tools: common standards and size, weight, power and cooling (SWPC) considerations. Col. Collins encourages companies to work together to facilitate integration of their systems with each other and WIN-T overall.

Col. Swanson emphasizes that now that Increment 2 is “on the goal line,” the Army’s focus on details will sharpen. “As we get pushed toward the edge, we’ll constantly be looking for improvements in SWPC,” he says. “It is important because WIN-T Increment 2 is pushed down to the company level. Equipment is going from the battalion down to the company and from a dedicated signal platform to combat platforms. Now, it may be on tanks—Bradleys, Strykers and different families of MRAPs. Some of these are legacy platforms, so they’ve been around for a long time, and there’s little or no space to put this equipment in or power to run it.”

WEB RESOURCES
Warfighter Information Network–Tactical: http://peoc3t.army.mil/wint
Network Integration Evaluation: www.bctmod.army.mil/nie_focus/index.html
Central Technical Support Facility: http://ctsf.army.mil
Joint Interoperability Test Command: http://jitc.fhu.disa.mil