Army Network Tests Drive New Tactics: Officials

The U.S. Army’s semi-annual network tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., are spurring soldiers to adopt new tactics for the battlefield, officials said.

The so-called Network Integration Evaluations give troops the opportunity to test new radios, smart phone-like devices, satellite communications networks, software and other gear in a combat-like environment, the officials said. They’re helping to refine the service’s so-called tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs, for using the technology, they said.

“Over the last few NIEs, the network has become much more stable than it was — so we are able to get at the TTPs and figure out mission command and do all that kind of stuff much more now than we have in the past, when we were really just trying to figure out the architecture,” Col. Beth Bierden, chief of the Network Integration Division at Brigade Modernization Command, said in an interview.

For instance, a new tactic was developed for soldiers using Nett Warrior, a smart-phone like device that displays maps with icons showing the position of forces, as well as nearby terrain and other combat-relevant intelligence, Bierden said.

“Soldiers love the Nett Warrior,” she said.

The program links troops using a handheld device called the Rifleman Radio, a single-channel radio that transmits voice and data communications running a high-bandwidth software package called Soldier Radio Waveform, or SRW.

“They call it tethering where they can give a team leader direction over Nett Warrior and do so without having to issue orders or talk to them,” Bierden said.

Tethering allows users of the system to send so-called “graphic control measures,” essentially icons imposed over a digital map showing where units are in relation to surrounding terrain, obstacles or enemy forces, Bierden said.

“From the platoon leader talking to the squad leaders and the team leaders, they call this leaving ‘bread crumbs’ — where they could put graphic control measures down and leave their intent,” she said. “The whole platoon could see them down to the platoon leader level and really do TTPs regarding how that platoon works together using the Nett Warrior,” she said. “Working through these TTPs is giving all kinds of capability that did not exist before.”

The technology allows troops to make mission adjustments more quickly and efficiently, Bierden said.

“That whole platoon leadership is seeing the same picture on their Nett Warrior device as they are moving toward the objective or doing a search,” she said. “That platoon leader can really direct his squads and teams wherever they want to go.”

With another system called Warfighter Information Network – Tactical Increment 2, or WIN-T, commanders were able to communicate while driving in armored trucks and other combat vehicles at a level that’s normally reserved for tactical operations centers.

The system is a mobile satellite communications and radio network engineered to integrate with tactical vehicles such as armored trucks, known as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected – All Terrain Vehicles, or M-ATVs. It includes antennas and, in some cases, a small satellite dish mounted onto vehicles, giving commanders the ability to chat with other commanders, as well as digital maps and intelligence information, Bierden said.

The network system uses an application called Command Post of the Future, or CPOF, a constantly updated display showing pertinent combat and intelligence data. The application gives commanders the ability to lead missions while stopped or moving.

The system is designed to be “self-healing,” meaning it can switch between a satellite connection to high-band radio as needed if, for instance, a line-of-sight connection is interrupted by terrain.

During testing, commanders had a soldier monitor the flow of data and alert the commander as needed, said Rickey Smith, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center – Forward.

“There is a lot of complexity and challenge to mission command on the move,” he said. “A commander’s got a lot going on. He’s got to know where his elements are and at the same time know what the enemy is doing. You have to manage the data elements in real time. One solution was to have another soldier take on the monitoring of the data and manage the data so that the commander is not stuck to the screen.”

After installing the second version of the system on wheeled vehicles, the Army plans to configure numerous tracked vehicles with the technology, Smith said.

The Army is developing another tactic to better unify operations and intelligence data, Bierden said. While much of the transitional work with this is still ongoing, the effort will more fully fuse technologies such as CPOF with the Army’s intelligence database called Distributed Common Ground System – Army, or DCGS.

This effort involves moving toward what Bierden referred to as a web or cloud-based common operating environment, or COE. The term refers to a common set of standards so that emerging and new technologies can better integrate with existing systems. The effort will also integrate a host of web-applications and move operational and intelligence data onto a single server, she added.

The next evaluation, called 14.1 and slated for October of this year, will likely advance this effort in a substantial way, Bierden said.

“The TTPs will get better and they will be better integrated,” she said. “We’re moving a lot of these operational applications onto one server to the intel standard, so that everything is integrated.”

Much of this gear is part of what the Army calls Capability Set 13, a suite of integrated networking technologies slated to deploy to Afghanistan this summer with the service’s 10th Mountain Division. Developers stay in close communication with the operational units receiving the gear so as to continually inform and refine TTPs, Bierden said.

“We will learn more TTPs from them [10th Mountain] and then incorporate that back into the process,” she said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • hibeam

    New tactics include how to maneuver quietly so as to not awaken Afghan civilians or startle their goats. Not like liberating France.

  • Stan

    Are the new tactics going to include “network compromised/shut down by hackers/emp”?Are the new tactics going to include “network compromised/shut down by hackers/emp”?

    • d. kellogg

      Because EMPs are such a commonplace battlefield threat now?

      In all seriousness, knowing the effects of the various counter-IED jammers the various services use, I’m more concerned of the more powerful jammers totally incapacitating the network.
      Some of those jammers are “spectrum indiscriminate”, meaning they’re not fine-tuned to set freqs at all, they jam everything.
      Could be a problem.
      Could take a long time to create software that allows the network to still network while the jammers are jamming. :-P

      • Mark

        Just in flying, loss of certain equipment means SOP take over. That could be going to predesignated icons which would stay visible on the hand sets. GPS is built in. If that too is jammed then it is time to pull the old compass out and still use the topography and grid squares that would still be on the hand set. So instead of being within a foot or two of where the CO wants you to be you end up a few yards away. I see no problem.

      • tmb2

        Most of our C-IED equipment use a specific frequency range or have filters on them for our own stuff to get through. That being said, there’s a reason the Army recently made Spectrum Management a full-time MOS instead of an ASI. Even with filters and good management systems in place, it doesn’t take much for the air around you to become an electromagnetic mess.

      • hibeam

        You can not Jam all of the spectrum any more than you can put a bullet on every square inch of enemy territory.

  • Hibeam

    What if these emitters are harming innocent civilians in Pakistan. Will the Commander in Golf shut them down? You know he will.

  • Mystick

    The more “moving parts”, the faster it breaks. Overwhelming complexity has its downsides.

    • blight_

      Hooray for solid-state parts!

  • dieboy

    Patton would be sad.

  • XYZ

    How would an official be a new tactic driven by army network tests? Clearly we need to hire more of these officials then, eh? Sounds like we’ll be using them as our tactics for quite a while. Oh, Defense Tech!

  • Wmc123
  • DB Cooper

    Question: The Smart Phones used to interface with the Rifleman Radio all have GPS Location transmitters in them. When they adapted them to be used was that function turned off? The Israelis learned the hard way that Cell phones the IDF soldiers all carried was transmiting their precice location and troop strength.

  • E.fulton

    U need a communication tech that as you mouth words censors display ur convo to ur C.O..which would pop up on a ret. display key words to activate certin optic an hearing devices for recon. No sound…drones are gonna take over a lot but sometimes u jus need that bad mofo spec ops warrior to properly navigate a serious situation weather it be targeting or intel, or simply to cat an mouse someone.