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Tactical Web Takes Shape

November 2003
By Henry S. Kenyon

System management, wireless connectivity issues dominate program’s second phase.

In the near future, U.S. Army units will benefit from high-speed, high-capacity data networks that will connect every unit, from individual infantrymen to headquarters units. However, to realize this vision, hurdles such as managing mobile ad hoc networks and providing beyond-line-of-sight communications in a fluid combat environment must be addressed.

Fully integrated communications are the vision of key Army development programs such as the Objective Force. The tenets of network-centric warfare call for flexible networks in which every unit and soldier is a node in a mobile system. Precision weapons and modern warfighting strategy call for constant streams of data from sensors and reconnaissance systems to provide commanders with constantly updated situational awareness. The force that can meld these new technologies into a seamless system will dominate future battlefields.

The system at the heart of many of the Army’s future combat programs is the Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T). Scheduled to enter service in 2008, it will use a variety of wireless communications technologies, mobile computing and advanced networking techniques connected to terrestrial, airborne and space-based platforms to create a single seamless system on the battlefield.

Administered by the Army’s program manager, WIN-T, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, the program has moved into its second phase with two teams led by General Dynamics, Taunton, Massachusetts, and Lockheed Martin, Bethesda, Maryland, competing for the final contract award.

According to Raymond Dolan, director of government markets, command, control, communications and computers (C4) systems, General Dynamics, WIN-T will replace systems such as mobile subscriber equipment (MSE) at the division/corps level and tri-service tactical (TRITAC) hardware for echelons above corps. He notes that, as a prime contractor for both MSE and a significant amount of TRITAC, the firm has considerable networking system experience. General Dynamics’ C4 Systems division also has been a prime contractor for large international mobile communications programs such as the United Kingdom’s Bowman and Canada’s Iris programs.

A key WIN-T requirement is to support mobile operations by maintaining network connectivity on the move. However, it is very much a work in progress for both teams. “It is not something that currently exists—being able to maintain that level of mobility and connectivity for the entire network,” Dolan says.

The goal of the program is to embed WIN-T communications capabilities in a variety of platforms to make it easier for the network to deploy with mobile forces. This will ultimately extend to Future Combat Systems (FCS) forces when they are developed. WIN-T will extend across all echelons, from headquarters to individual soldiers. At the tactical level, the program is developing a personal communications device (PCD) for individual soldiers and officers. The PCDs will permit authorized users to access the network on the move.

Over this tactical level will exist a sophisticated network operations capability that will include aspects such as network management, information assurance and information dissemination management. “So all of those things are under the network operations umbrella, which we think is the real key to making the network operate in this environment. It must also be able to work intelligently and pass information around, keep the network connected and manage it, particularly as it relates to other networks such as the FCS or interfaces to the Global Information Grid,” he says.

However, a number of technical challenges remain before a WIN-T prototype is ready. According to Dolan, antenna capability is one difficulty. To maintain the mobility goals of the future force, antennas must be able to receive new waveforms under development. Maintaining beyond-line-of-sight connectivity while on the move and managing the network also remain a challenge.

Dolan adds that some of the communications shortcomings encountered by U.S. forces in Iraq serve to illustrate issues that WIN-T must overcome such as difficulties with line-of-sight systems in urban environments. The new waveforms being developed for programs such as the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) will become critical enablers for maintaining connectivity for WIN-T as they are fielded. An open systems architecture also is critical as new components are added because it allows each new technology insertion and upgrade to be readily incorporated into the network, he says.

Because the software programmable JTRS radios will be able to transmit virtually all of the waveforms used by the U.S. Defense Department, it is a key part of WIN-T and any FCS solution. “That kind of software programmable base—being able to handle all of these waveforms—will essentially reside in almost any platform, WIN-T being one of them,” he explains.

The program will certainly use JTRS capabilities as they become available, Dolan says, noting that this is why the General Dynamics team includes two JTRS Cluster 1 providers: BAE Systems and Rockwell Collins. “We recognize the importance of JTRS because its capabilities will be everywhere. They include the smaller devices coming out of JTRS Cluster 5 or any other related program,” he says.

The wideband networked waveforms being developed for JTRS will enable wireless communications networks to move greater amounts of data more efficiently. These new waveforms will provide a more robust and inherent networking capability. System management also becomes a critical issue with these advanced radios. For users to benefit from a smart communications network, system designers must ensure that appropriate techniques are developed to manage smart radios. “It’s the WIN-T challenge to take those waveforms and develop an overriding network operation approach, which includes management and keeping all those smart radios connected,” Dolan explains.

In time, JTRS and most other military waveforms will be a part of a greater system of systems. Across the WIN-T network, the work will extend to antennas, radios, routers, servers, controls and site solutions developed to manage all of the different embedded emitters and devices. As with JTRS, Dolan believes that WIN-T will provide the Army with cost savings directly by reducing the number of required communications vehicles and personnel. He notes that the service also wants the award winner to develop training concepts to reduce instruction time on the new system.

The Army awarded its milestone B approval in September to both teams for the first phase of the WIN-T contract. The awards open the way for phase two of the contract. Within the next 18 months, a developmental test, operational test (DTOT) of the competing systems will take place, prior to a final downselect and award. “So we’re not only delivering the documentation in more detail than we started with during phase one, but we’ll also be developing and preparing for the DTOT,” he says.

Both teams must prepare their proposals and begin clarifying and refining their approaches. The initial phase of the program involved developing preliminary designs. The second phase also involves design work, but the teams must get closer to developing the specifics of the design and system they will demonstrate during the DTOT. Dolan adds that while this work is taking place, the Army is tracking the progress of both teams.