The Army’s Evolving Network Backbone: The Benefits of WIN-T Increment 2

By Amy Walker, PEO C3T

This article was originally published in the March 2014 issue of Armor & Mobility.

To meet the Army’s new strategic priorities for readiness, responsiveness and regional engagement, ongoing advancements in the Army’s tactical communications network backbone, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), are aiding the service in becoming more mobile, modular and adaptable.

“Future military operations will require reliable communications capabilities that can be rapidly deployed anywhere in the world,” said Col. Ed Swanson, project manager for WIN-T. “WIN-T provides the tactical communications equipment and services to support the Army now and in the future. We are continually taking user feedback to enhance the network, while making it easier for soldiers to operate and maintain.”

The Army’s WIN-T Increment 1 network has been supporting a full range of military operations since 2004, providing soldiers at the battalion level and above with at-the-halt, high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications. For most of the Army, it is their expeditionary internet. The program has been fully fielded to all units dedicated to receive the capability. As part of the Army’s continued network modernization efforts and to support changing mission requirements, current upgrades to WIN-T Increment 1 add a Network Centric Waveform modem, which optimizes bandwidth and satellite utilization. These upgrades, referred to as the WIN-T Increment 1B upgrades, also provide a Colorless Core capability that encrypts data as it is transported over satellites and line-of-sight links, enabling soldiers to send information securely across the battlefield. The upgrades improve the security and efficiency of the network, and since these capabilities are inherent in the mobile WIN-T Increment 2 network, they also enable communication between users of both increments.

As U.S. operations in Afghanistan have changed from combat to advise-and-assist missions in support of the Afghan security forces, soldiers now rely on the mobile networking capabilities of WIN-T Increment 2. This increment not only adds on-the-move access to the tactical network, it also extends the network over vast distances and difficult terrain, connecting soldiers in geographically separated locations. Tactical vehicles equipped with WIN-T Increment 2 provide the mobile communications, mission command applications and situational awareness that commanders need to lead from anywhere in their area of operation. Both increments of WIN-T are deployed today as part of the Army’s interoperable tactical communications network architecture. Going forward, unit requirements that can be satisfied with at-the-halt networking capability will remain with WIN-T Increment 1, while those units where mobility is critical to mission success will receive WIN-T Increment 2.

WIN-T Increment 2 is the mobile network backbone of the Army’s capability sets—an integrated tactical communications package providing connectivity across the brigade combat team (BCT). CS 13 has now been fielded to four infantry BCTs, who utilize WIN-T Increment 2 on variants of the Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle fleet. Two of these units are currently using the system in Afghanistan, while the other two units are undergoing training in preparation for possible deployment in 2014. Throughout 2014, the Army is planning to field 10 more units (two division headquarters, five infantry BCTs, and three Stryker BCTs) with CS 14 and WIN-T Increment 2 components through the CS Fielding and Unit Set Fielding process.

As the WIN-T Increment 2 program fields to additional units, it continues to increase capability, improve reliability and simplify the system. It has also implemented training improvements based on valuable soldier input, said Lt. Col. LaMont Hall, PdM for WIN-T Increment 2.

“We want to make the system easier for soldiers to use, while reducing complexity,” Hall said. “We have developed and are currently having soldiers test a new graphical user interface that will significantly reduce the number of startup and shutdown steps, simplify the soldier tasks and streamline troubleshooting, all designed to make the system more reliable and easier to use.”

Another major focus for PM WIN-T is to simplify and reduce the number of Network Operations (NetOps) tools communication officers (S6s) use to manage the network. Today’s WIN-T NetOps tool suites are supporting S6s in theater, enabling them to manage the network more effectively to help keep vital signal links connected. An upgraded NetOps tool suite will be evaluated at NIE 14.2.

Caption: A Stryker vehicle integrated with Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 during Network Integration Evaluation 14.1 at Fort Bliss, TX, in November 2013. WIN-T Increment 2 keeps soldiers connected and commanders informed while on the move. (Nancy Jones-Bonbrest)