Proven Endurance, Enhanced Network Assurance

Approved_WINTInc2Strykers_rev2

The Army’s combat-proven Stryker vehicle is now getting a high-speed network upgrade.

By Amy Walker and Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, PEO C3T

Previously relying on the line-of-sight, radio based Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS) for communications, select Strykers are now being equipped for the first time with the satellite-based network communications capabilities of Warfighter Network Information-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 and Blue Force Tracking (BFT) 2.

“Conflicts over the last decade and the complexities of the future operational environment make it clear that our forces need reliable, robust network communications capabilities as they maneuver in battle,” said Major General Daniel P. Hughes, program executive officer for Command, Control, and Communications-Tactical, which fields the Army’s tactical network. “Equipping Strykers with high-speed, high-capacity network communications is a natural and needed step in Army modernization.”

Managing the Distance

Stryker brigade combat teams (SBCTs) conduct rapid operations across great distances, in all types of terrain and across the spectrum of conflict. These new satellite-based networks outfit the Stryker with advanced communications capabilities, near real-time situational awareness, and faster position location information, allowing SBCTs to send and receive the data they need on the move from geographically separated locations.

The two capabilities complement one another across a BCT, with WIN-T Increment 2 providing the on the move communications network backbone down to the company level to support mission command and advanced communications capabilities and the BFT 2 network enabling situational awareness of friendly forces and digital command and control down to the platoon and squad levels. Even though some echelons may not be connected to the WIN-T network, having both capabilities enables the entire BCT to stay connected and operationally informed.

WIN-T Increment 2 is a key piece of the Army’s effort to network Stryker formations. It enables deployed soldiers operating in remote and challenging terrain to maintain voice, video, and data communications while on patrol, with connectivity rivaling that found in a stationary command post. From inside their WIN-T Increment 2-equipped vehicles, soldiers and commanders can provide and receive real-time situational awareness information across the BCT utilizing on-board mission command systems, Voice over Internet Protocol phone calls, full feature chat, and other collaborative enterprise capabilities. They can exchange critical information and send and receive orders from anywhere on the battlefield.

“Integrating WIN-T Increment 2 into the Stryker will enable SBCTs to stay connected and informed across great distances and on the move, just as other units employ these capabilities today,” said Lieutenant Colonel LaMont Hall, product manager for WIN-T Increment 2. “It will increase the ability of these units to send and receive critical situational awareness with the rest of the force over an extended range of operations.”

Assimilating Network and Platform

Stryker integration with WIN-T Increment 2 is already underway. The WIN-T Increment 2 Developmental Test 2 conducted at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), N.M., in June 2014 provided the opportunity for technical verification of three WIN-T Increment 2-equipped Stryker variants in advance of the WIN-T Increment 2 Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation 2. This operational test is scheduled to take place during the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 15.1 in October/November at WSMR and Fort Bliss, TX, and will include a full battalion of Stryker vehicles. Lessons learned from those assessments will inform continued Capability Set fieldings to Stryker BCTs.

Prior to the Stryker integration, WIN-T Increment 2 has mainly been integrated onto variants of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle fleet for use in Afghanistan. However, several WIN-T Increment 2 elements have also been integrated on High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle platforms to meet the needs of units with unique transport requirements.

The Stryker network upgrades also include equipping vehicles with BFT 2. The BFT 2 network is used with the Army’s current and future situational awareness capability Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2), which is upgrading in two steps: Joint Capabilities Release (JCR) and Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P). The JCR and JBC-P systems provide mounted mission command, friendly force tracking, and situational awareness capabilities.

For the past 13 years of war, soldiers have used FBCB2, and now JCR, to monitor blue and red icons on a computer screen inside their vehicles to locate and identify teammates, coordinate attacks, and prevent fratricide. They can also map out improvised explosive devices and enemy locations with red icons on the same computerized topographical map, which then alerts other friendly units nearby.

“BFT 2 untethers us from the line-of-sight network, so anyplace we have a formation, we’re able to actively receive communications,” said Major Dan Galvan, 2nd SBCT/2nd Infantry Division brigade engineer. “This allows the brigade or battalion commanders to make on-time decisions and move forces more quickly to concentrate combat power.”

Looking Ahead

The BFT 2 conversion began in March with the 2nd SBCT/2nd Infantry Division and 3rd SBCT/2nd Infantry Division, both based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), WA. This fielding is part of the Army’s larger Capability Set (CS) fielding effort that includes an integrated communications package previously only available to infantry BCTs.

“With the traditional FM radio or EPLRS, it requires a unit to go out and establish a retransmission location,” Galvan said. “With BFT 2, we still will push out a [retransmission], but we’re not as tied to that, and we can still fight, operate, and make timely decisions because it’s a satellite-based system. It extends the network far beyond what we could normally do in an EPLRS environment.”

With this recent delivery of JCR/BFT 2 to the 2/2 and 3/2, there are five remaining SBCTs to upgrade by the end of FY 15 or early FY 16. The Army will continue fielding the BFT 2 network to all Stryker units, retiring EPLRS as an FBCB2/JBC-P network mechanism by 2017. Then, starting in late FY 15 in accordance with the Army’s prioritization strategy, the Army will begin upgrading four EPLRS based armored BCTs with JCR/BFT 2.

“Networking Stryker and armored formations will significantly improve the Army’s versatility to adapt to different missions with rapid and Olmstead, product manager for JBC-P. “These upgrades represent a significant advancement in how we conduct mission command across the force.”

Lead art: These Stryker vehicles at Fort Bliss, TX, were integrated with Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 in preparation for Network Integration Evaluation 15.1 this fall, which will include a full battalion of Stryker vehicles. WIN-T Increment 2 adds mobility to the Army’s tactical communications network, providing key situational awareness, communication, and mission command capabilities on-the-move down to the company level. (Army)

 This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Armor & Mobility magazine.