Army unveils battlefield communications strategy

The Army has kicked off a multibillion-dollar project to revamp its battlefield communications systems, a project that calls for replacing or upgrading virtually every piece of the Army's battlefield communications infrastructure, from cables to radios to switches to satellite terminals.

The new Warfighter Information Network (WIN) project also calls for development of a new communications doctrine and a restructuring of the Signal forces, including the creation of new Military Occupational Specialties to operate and maintain the new systems.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer approved WIN April 25, just eight months after the Army Signal Center, Fort Gordon, Ga., began developing the concept. The Army declined to say how much WIN will cost or to outline an acquisition schedule, but industry sources and analysts said it could equal the $4.5 billion it cost the Army to field its last battlefield communications system, the $4.5 billion Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) system built by GTE Corp.

Col. Ancil Hicks, chief of the Command, Control and Signal Division in the Office of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, called WIN a "leap forward" for the Army, saying it was "designed to increase the capacity and velocity of information distribution in order to gain information dominance."

Lt. Col. Bill Clingempeel, chief of concepts and architecture development for the Signal Center, said the Army plans to start fielding an integrated WIN package to at least one division in the 2000-2002 time frame, "with a full Corps set in the next two years and a Corps set every three years thereafter."

The driving force behind WIN is simple, Clingempeel said: "We need the pipes out there to carry all the bits on a battlefield.... We need a homogeneous network designed and built to handle emerging communications technologies, such as multimedia, video teleconferencing and Personal Communications Systems (PCS) [cellular].... And we need to do it in a mobile network where you have many moving parts."

Developed in the mid-1980s, when more than 90 percent of the Army's battlefield communications were voice-based, MSE does not have enough capacity to "handle the onslaught of all these technologies," Clingempeel said.

Commercial Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switch technology sits at the core of the WIN architecture, Clingempeel said. Today in Bosnia, he said, the Army has deployed multiple stovepiped networks, each with its own set of satellite terminals hooked into its own network of terrestrial switches and links. ATM, he added, "will allow us to combine all those services on a single pipe, and it will also allow us to more efficiently allocate bandwidth."

Hicks said the terrestrial portion of WIN will be based on MSE, with new technology - such as ATM switches and high-capacity trunked radios - integrated into existing MSE equipment. The Army intends to use existing MSE shelters, trucks and generators as building blocks for WIN, Hicks added.

The Army's Information Systems Command (ISC), Fort Huachuca, Ariz., has been tasked to ensure that the WIN battlefield architecture meshes with the Defense Information Systems Network and systems installed at Army bases.

The Army has increased the budget for MSE and Tri-Tac battlefield terrestrial communications systems by $275 million over the next five years, Hicks said, for a total of $538 million. He emphasized that this funding line will not cover other portions of the WIN project, such as satellite terminals.

According to Clingempeel, the WIN plan calls for developing and fielding "large pipes" throughout the field Army, from brigade and below to Corps and above, with the ability to transport wideband data a key determinant.

For example, the Army intends to rely on commercial satellite systems to handle data to, from and within the battlefield. It is acquiring multiband, mobile satellite terminals that are able to access military and commercial birds. High-powered Global Broadcast Systems will also play a key role, according to WIN briefing documents, which showed that the Army could acquire as many as 2,000 terminals.

The advanced satellite terminals will feed data into an Integrated Services Digital Network. The WIN architecture also calls for the development and fielding of an advanced digital radio capable of a throughput of 2 megabit/sec to 6 megabit/sec to serve mobile users.

This advanced digital radio would replace low data rate systems, such as the Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, manufactured by ITT Corp., and the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System radios, manufactured by Hughes Aircraft Co. According to the WIN briefing documents, the Army intends to acquire close to 20,000 of these advanced radios.

The WIN architecture calls for a new high-capacity trunked radio to handle terrestrial communications between battlefield nodes, with a minimum 10 megabit/sec data rate for internodal links and a 45 megabit/sec data rate for "up the hill" links to command centers.

For voice communications, the WIN program intends to use commercially based cellular telephone systems for a battlefield PCS system. The Army also needs to junk the most basic part of its battlefield communications infrastructure: copper cable, which will be replaced with fiber-optic cable.

Industry analysts hailed the WIN program as the "grand vision" the Army needs to drastically overhaul its battlefield communications.

Warren Suss, a Pennsylvania-based communications analyst who specializes in the federal market, said, "MSE is unbelievably out of date.... They needed to rethink their whole architecture, develop a new vision and start from the ground up."

Suss put the cost of WIN well into the multibillion-dollar range, but "it will eventually help them reduce costs because right now the Army is spending a lot to maintain an outdated infrastructure.... WIN looks like it is also designed to easily interface with [DISN]."

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