Even after being frozen overnight at negative 35-degree temperatures in the severe winter conditions of Alaska, the elements of the Army’s second-generation tactical communications network backbone were up and running.
Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, Increment 2, successfully completed its Cold Weather Natural Environments Testing in January at Fort Greely, Alaska, receiving positive test results in the execution and in its recently released test report from the Army’s Aberdeen Test Center.
The data will be used to support a Full-Rate Production, or FRP, decision for WIN-T Increment 2, with a successful FRP decision providing the green light for the network’s fielding in fiscal year 2013.
“This was a very successful test and all of the equipment performed as we would have expected in extreme arctic conditions,” said Lt. Col. Robert Collins, product manager for WIN-T Increments 2 and 3. “Whether in the desert or in adverse cold environments, WIN-T Increment 2 will provide the needed on-the-move tactical network communications for maneuver elements on the battlefield all the way down the company level.”
The cold weather test sets the stage for WIN-T Increment 2’s formal operational test, which is the system’s final assessment prior to the full rate production decision.
This strenuous, three-week Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, knows as IOT&E, will take place in May at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in conjunction with the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 12.2. It will allow the Army to assess the suitability and effectiveness of the WIN-T Increment 2 system with an operational unit, while yielding feedback to make any needed doctrinal, material or training improvements before the system is fielded.
WIN-T Increment 2 is the centerpiece of Capability Set 13, the first integrated group of network technologies that will be fielded to up to eight brigade combat teams starting in fiscal year 2013. Capability Set 13 has taken shape through the NIEs, part of the Army’s Agile Process that integrates and will deliver new technologies to Soldiers much more quickly than normal acquisition cycles allow.
Similar to a home Internet connection, WIN-T Increment 1 provides soldiers with high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to units at battalion level at-the-halt. WIN-T Increment 2 is a major upgrade and introduces numerous additional capabilities including an on-the-move communications network that reaches down to the company echelon for the first time.
Among the objectives of the WIN-T Increment 2 Cold Weather Natural Environments Testing, was an assessment and documentation of the impact of icing, high wind, safety, operation of equipment by soldiers in cold gear and other factors associated with extreme cold weather conditions. The team was also required to assess the impacts of extreme cold weather on transmission performance for line-of-sight and satellite links both at-the-halt and on-the-move. Procedures for the operation of the increment’s general configuration items, including raising and lowering antenna masts, also had to be validated.
“There are regions in the world that have these extreme cold weather environments, and it’s imperative for the soldier to know in advance some of the lessons that we have learned up in Alaska so they will be prepared for equipment set up and use when they are deployed,” said Tom Franey, WIN-T Increment 2 Reliability Test Lead. “Validating the technical manual procedures in these conditions is imperative to ensure that Soldiers deployed to these extreme environments have the knowledge and information they need to operate the equipment and perform their missions successfully.”
For protection in extreme cold weather, soldiers are issued Extended Cold Weather Clothing Systems, or ECWCS. The test operators for the Cold Weather Natural Environments Testing were able to successfully execute all of the tests wearing this Army-issued equipment.
“The operators wore these cold weather clothing systems so that we could document the human factor when they are operating the equipment, such as how they can use mittens and move around in the clothing system,” Franey said. “It was important for us to have the operators wear exactly what the soldiers would be wearing in the field.”
The cold weather testing included several on-the-move threads, at-the-halt deployments and storage of the communications equipment. At-the-halt tests were performed in low light conditions following a cold soak of the configuration items overnight at temperatures that measured below negative 35 degrees. The next day the operators were able to bring all of the equipment back up to its operating temperature by utilizing the Environmental Control Units, known as ECUs, inside each platform.
“Because a lot of this equipment is commercial-off-the-shelf, you really can’t operate it in negative 35 degrees, but the ECUs bring the equipment back up to operating temperatures,” said Franey. “That was successful and we able to get all of the equipment up and running.”
The PM deployed WIN-T Increment 2’s main configuration items for the test including the Tactical Communications Node, or TCN, which is the centerpiece and hub of the WIN-T Increment 2 network; the Point of Presence, which will be installed on tactical combat platforms to enable mobile mission command by providing secret level on-the-move network connectivity; the Soldier Network Extension, which will be installed on tactical combat platforms to extend the network down to the company level; and the Vehicle Wireless Package, which extends the WIN-T network to command post vehicles moving in convoy with the TCN. It also provided the Tactical Relay Tower, which provides extended range for the Highband Networking Radio; and the Satellite Transportable Terminal +, which provides satellite communications at-the-quick-halt.
Along with the other tests, the Cold Weather Natural Environments Testing team was also required to test the operation of this equipment in the dark, with Fort Greely having provided the perfect test bed since during the month of January it only sees about four to five hours of sunlight each day. The low light environment tests were needed to document and provide lessons-learned on equipment usage and set-up.
“The TR-T has a 30 meter stand-alone mast and in the dark it’s hard to see the top of that mast as it is going up,” Franey said. “Soldiers in the field are issued a special flashlight and in the dark we were able to successfully bring everything up from ground zero to operating.”
As the Army now makes final preparations for the IOT&E, and for the eventual fielding and training of WIN-T Increment 2, it will leverage knowledge gained during the cold weather test.
“There were several lessons-learned concerning the operation of the WIN-T Increment 2 equipment in this environment, and to soldiers deployed to these extreme cold conditions in some remote location of the world, having those insights and knowledge early is vital to program success and mission execution,” Collins said. “We are pleased with the favorable test results as we move closer to sending Increment 2 to the battlefield.”