When the Army awarded two contracts earlier this month for its multibillion-dollar battlefield networking program, it filled a missing link in its long-term strategy to change how battles are fought and won.
During the past two years, the Army has formulated a strategy known as Objective Force that is intended to make soldiers more agile so that they can deploy more quickly, adapt more readily to changes on the battlefield and strike more lethally.
The key to that vision is the ability to deliver information to forces across the battlefield when and where they need it. And although information technology has become an essential element of the Army's arsenal, the traditional approach to networking — based on laying a web of cables and staking up antennae — hardly fits the vision of a mobile force.
That's where the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program comes in. With WIN-T, Army officials plan to create a mobile network environment that will enable soldiers to send and receive critical information on the fly.
"We want to provide the right information, at the right time, in the right format, to the right place to support warfighting capabilities," said Col. Tom Cole, the Army's WIN-T project manager. "WIN-T will let us do that."
WIN-T is a tactical intranet that will use commercial technologies for wired and wireless voice, data and video communications — a critical communications element of Objective Force, according to Cole, who is based at the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical at Fort Monmouth, N.J.
The pair of contracts the Army awarded this month will let two vendor teams battle it out for the program, which is valued at about $10 billion through fiscal 2012.
On Aug. 9, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems in Gaithersburg, Md., and General Dynamics C4 Systems in Taunton, Mass., were each awarded the first increments of contracts worth nearly $75 million to define, validate and test the architecture and technology that will make up the core of the WIN-T system.
WIN-T will provide an overarching framework in which the Army can support groups with various networking and security requirements working in widely dispersed locations, Cole said.
It not only will serve troops on the battlefield, creating what the Army calls a "tactical infosphere," but also will serve Army commanders in transit to the battlefield or manning the command and control centers.
"WIN-T is principally a seamless communications network with no interfaces for communications on the move," he said. "Soldiers won't have to stop and put a stake in the ground and put an antenna up. It will ease information dissemination management, so soldiers don't have to act on it. [The data] automatically goes where it's supposed to."
WIN-T will not be used for gathering intelligence, command and control, or situational awareness, but for transporting data to the right person. "But to get command and control and situational awareness information to the right place, we need to utilize bandwidth efficiently, and the challenge will be [integrating] those architectures, and doing that in a mobile environment," Cole said.
For example, the Army wants troops to be able to transmit data at 256 kilobits/sec while traveling across rough terrain. "And that terrain is the key because it changes the orientation of the antenna that needs to stay with the satellite," he said.
"It's not a huge reach from the technology standpoint. We're touching all of those things right now, but can we afford reliability and quality of service, [since] we want 100 percent connectivity all of the time?"
WIN-T must not only be mobile, but also secure and survivable, and it must integrate ground-, airborne- and satellite-based capabilities into a network infrastructure that will support the Army's Future Combat System (FCS) and other transformational systems (see box, at left).
"WIN-T is the backbone of the Objective Force and the bridge between all of the various fixed-base wideband systems in [the continental United States] and the individual mobile users out in the field," said John Pike, a former defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists and now director of GlobalSecurity.org.
In It for the Long Haul
The three-year contracts are divided into two phases. During the first phase, which will last one year, the teams will define the architecture for WIN-T, focusing on risk management, technology readiness and coordination with FCS, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and other key transformational systems.
During the second phase, which runs for 23 months, the teams will test a simulation of the WIN-T architecture and develop a prototype system for Army users to test. The prototypes will be ready and "early user tests" will take place in fiscal 2005, Cole said.
The Army Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom) at Fort Monmouth is the contracting office for WIN-T, and the production contract will be put out for bid in fiscal 2005 and awarded in fiscal 2006, Cole said.
Lockheed Martin is the lead systems integrator for Team WIN-T, which includes Harris Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., ACS Defense Inc., SRI International, CACI Inc., Innovative Logistics Techniques Inc. and Integrated Solutions Inc.
The General Dynamics team includes a number of its own business units, as well as BAE Systems, BBN Technologies, DynCorp, Northrop Grumman Information Technology, Rockwell Collins Inc., Research Triangle Institute, Veridian Corp. and others.
"We wanted to preserve competition through production," Cole said, adding that the Army could have awarded one contract now and then competed the production award, but that would have locked the service into one provider "and that vendor would have had a huge advantage."
Pike said the competition will also help reduce the risk associated with such a massive project. "This is a large, complex program, and the competition over the next several years should be an important risk-reduction effort to improve the odds of selecting the best solution for the users," he said.
No Easy Task
Dave Kelley, program executive for WIN-T at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems, said bringing reliable, mobile connectivity to the battlefield is a complex process, but he is pleased with the team Lockheed has assembled and feels the members' combined expertise will help the Army realize its WIN-T vision.
With WIN-T, the signal soldier, who is responsible for maintaining communications, will no longer have to spend precious minutes setting up stations and linking technologies when Army troops roll into a new location.
"Mobile battle command is not just phones. But the whole infrastructure around it moves," Kelley said. "Making that realizable on the battlefield shifts the burden from the signal soldier to the technology."
The most important aspect in the first phase of the contract is designing a baseline requirements document for the WIN-T architecture, he said. "That's the product in the first 12 months, and everything will be built around that."
Jerry DeMuro, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems, said the Army's vision for WIN-T is centered on "ubiquitous connectivity.... Delivering relevant, reliable, timely and actionable" information to commanders whenever and wherever they need it sounds "very elegant," but it involves a number of key technical challenges that must be overcome.
The Army, for example, might have multiple operations going on simultaneously in separate locations, yet the information must continue to flow — and that involves myriad information management challenges, DeMuro said.
Commercial vendors have experience in using available technologies and developing other tools when necessary to help meet the military's needs, and that's how the General Dynamics WIN-T team came together, he said.
Jim Quinn, WIN-T program director at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems, said that as the Army continues its transformation to Objective Force, the importance of information dissemination and mobility will require "leveraging of command and control applications with a mobile network infrastructure" that WIN-T will provide.
"We'd like to design a system where the Army doesn't need ground stakes, everything is mobile, so they can fight as soon as it rolls off the C-130" or other aircraft, Kelley said. "It's a complex process, but it's in our space as a high-tech systems integrator. That's what we do."
Cole said that the Army has worked hard to synchronize WIN-T, FCS, JTRS and its upcoming satellite communications systems in order to field Objective Force by the end of the decade.
"All those need to come together," Cole said, adding that the first FCS field unit is scheduled for fiscal 2008, with a unit of employment anticipated two years later, "and they will need WIN-T."
Both Kelley and DeMuro said they would be working closely with the vendor teams on FCS, JTRS and the Army's other transformational programs to ensure that the service meets its goal.
In addition to trying to synchronize with the Army's other programs, WIN-T also poses other challenges, Cole said.
For starters, developing a seamless architecture with the necessary network management discipline will not be easy, he said. In addition, satellite communications on the move are difficult and keeping costs down is always daunting.
"Cecom is demonstrating those capabilities now, but really putting them into production is a challenge," Cole said.
Pike agreed and said that linking all the pieces will take significant effort and funding.
"A lot of different pieces have to be fit together, which is never easy," Pike said. "The requirement to be able to rapidly reconfigure the network in a reliable fashion would seem rather challenging. There are no evident show-stoppers, but putting all the pieces together may turn out to take some nontrivial time and money."
The Army also expects that WIN-T will need an elevated infrastructure, but whether that takes the form of a satellite or an unmanned aerial vehicle has yet to be determined.
Making the WIN-T vision a reality will undoubtedly be challenging, but it is achievable, Cole said. "Innovation in technology to keep it affordable is the challenge."
Networking on the go
The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical will enable troops and their commanders to have continuous access to the information they need, even when they are in transit.
* WIN-T will provide planning and communications support to warfighters in fortified locations.
* While warfighters are en route, they will use airborne communications systems to conduct mission planning and rehearsal.
* WIN-T will enable commanders, staff and other users to simultaneously exchange voice, data and video information between the sustaining base and the deployed area of operation.
* Through the WIN-T infrastructure, warfighters will have access to specialized services such as Mobile Satellite Services, the Defense Message System, Global Broadcast Service and interfaces to joint, allied and coalition forces.