Battlefield communications

Joint Network Node gives soldiers voice, video and data in mobile unit

As soldiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division patrol Iraq on their second tour of duty, they communicate more freely and easily because of a new system using primarily commercial technology.

General Dynamics officials built the multimillion-dollar Joint Network Node (JNN), which uses mostly Cisco Systems routers and telephones, net.com Promina Multiplexors, Redcom Laboratories switches and Juniper Networks NetScreen firewalls. For soldiers fighting in small units on the battlefield, JNN offers voice over IP, videoconferencing and more access to the military’s classified and unclassified networks.

“JNN provides more capability than the Mobile Subscriber Equipment-Triservices Tactical (MSE-Tritac) terminals,” said Lt. Col. Francis Huber, the division’s chief information officer. “It does things MSE couldn’t do.”

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated to Army officials that they needed a system that gives soldiers access to voice, video and data communications when they operate out of sight of one another in vast desert and mountain regions. MSE-Tritac was developed in the 1980s for soldiers to fight the forces of the former Soviet Union in the confined plains of Western and Eastern Europe. JNN represents Army officials’ first phase in fielding a modern communications system for the wars of today and tomorrow.

“The Army has a new networking capability that will help transform deploying units,” said Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the Army’s CIO. “The Army is building an IP, net-centric force.”

JNN gives soldiers more mobile communications than MSE-Tritac did but not as much as the future Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) system will. General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin officials are developing WIN-T and plan to deploy it in 2008.

“JNN provides satellite communications on the quick haul, but you have to halt,” said John Martin, vice president and general manager for communications networks in General Dynamics’ C4 Systems business unit. “WIN-T will provide satellite communications on the move.”

General Dynamics officials devised JNN based on their experiences with MSE- Tritac and IP-based systems for the Air Force and the Marine Corps. They introduced a prototype that intrigued Army officials at the service’s Signal Corps conference in 2003, Martin said.

In May 2004, company officials received a sole-source contract to build JNN for the 3rd Infantry Division. “They recognized and reacted to a customer need faster than we did,” said an industry official who works for a company that often competes against General Dynamics for Army communications systems contracts. “They deserve all the credit.”

Three months later, General Dynamics officials delivered the first JNN equipment so 3rd Infantry Division soldiers could train with it before returning to Iraq earlier this year. They were the first troops, along with Marines and British forces, to enter the country in early 2003.

“The soldiers running JNN love that they provide more capabilities,” Huber said. “They also love the fact it is easy to set up and uses commercial off-the- shelf technology found in the outside world that will help them get a great job someday.”

JNN’s equipment includes 2651 and 3725 series routers, 2950 and 3750 Ethernet switches and VG248 gateway voice equipment from Cisco; Promina 400 broadband services delivery platforms from net.com; HDX PBX switches from Redcom; and NetScreen 25 and 5XT firewalls from Juniper. The system also uses General Dynamics’ proprietary Vantage gateway, which lets it share information with MSE-Tritac, Martin said.

JNN equipment sits in two shelters on two Army high-mobility, multipurpose vehicles, or humvees. One sits at a midlevel brigade command center on the battlefield and the other at the higher-level division command center near it.

JNN connects via wire and fiber-optic cable to Ku-band satellite terminals at the two command centers. It also connects via transit cases at four lower-level battalion command posts farther out on the battlefield. The terminals exchange voice, video and data with Ku-band satellites.

Training days

General Dynamics officials started training 3rd Infantry soldiers on JNN in August 2004 at their Fort Stewart, Ga., base. The nine-week program culminated in a military exercise last November at Fort Polk, La., a main Army training site.

“Soldiers approached the training with JNN with a lot of trepidation because they got used to MSE-Tritac,” Huber said. But he praised officials at General Dynamics, the Army Signal Center, which managed the system’s training, and Boutelle, who oversaw its funding. He said the officials helped soldiers feel knowledgeable and comfortable.

“They have not denied me anything,” Huber said, adding that Brig. Gen. Jan Hicks, commanding general of the Army Signal Center, “has been here a lot.” Soldiers uncovered few problems while training with JNN. The most serious one involved the design of a gas tank in the generator that powers the Ku-band satellite terminal. General Dynamics officials redesigned the tank to make it easier for soldiers to fill using the 5-gallon gas cans they carry in combat, Huber said.

Company officials will build at least three more versions of JNN. Army officials and lawmakers reached a deal last October that reworked service funding and earmarked $247 million for soldiers in the 101st Airborne, 10th Mountain and 4th Infantry divisions to get the system.

Soldiers in the four divisions will receive JNN under the program’s first phase. Soldiers in the 1st Cavalry, 25th Infantry and 82nd Airborne divisions will get the system under Phase 2, which still requires funding.

General Dynamics officials already started JNN training with 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain soldiers. Army officials have awarded them $136 million to date for system fielding and training, Martin said.

JNN falls under the Army’s broader Joint Network Transport Capability, which relies on IP, satellites and commercial products to provide more mobile communications and greater access to logistics and intelligence data on the battlefield.

The program represents the service’s new acquisition strategy to get new warfighting and communications technologies to soldiers.

The JNN procurement shows that Army officials learned their lesson in Iraq, said Dan Goure, a senior defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank. “The Army took its lesson to heart by putting together a mobile communications system until it fields WIN-T,” he said.

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