As U.S. and coalition forces draw down in Afghanistan and take most of their communications infrastructure with them, a new capability the size of a suitcase will enable soldiers to connect to the coalition network from anywhere on the planet.
Fitting into a single handheld transit case for rapid mobility, this satellite network communications kit, known as the Global Rapid Response Information Package, or GRRIP, provides secure, beyond-line-of-sight voice, video and data communications without the need for local network infrastructure.
“Lessons learned from the drawdown in Iraq taught us that as networks get disassembled, mistakes can happen; things can go down when you weren’t expecting them to,” said Lt. Col. Leonard Newman, product manager for the Army’s Product Manager Satellite Communications, or PdM SATCOM, which is assigned to Project Manager WIN-T. “This solution has the potential to solve many of those problems and increase the expeditionary nature of the Army for future missions in remote areas or involving coalition forces.”
The Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System, or CENTRIXS – International Security Assistance Force network, or CX-I, is the U.S. branch of the coalition network used in Operation Enduring Freedom. To support operations during the drawdown of forces in this region, a new CX-I enclave located at the WIN-T Satellite Network Operations Center at Fort Dix, N.J., went live in late March, ensuring frontline troops can access the coalition network anytime, anywhere utilizing the GRRIP.
Previous to this effort, the CX-I network gateway and terminals in Afghanistan were provided by a private contractor, but that contract is due to end shortly and the company’s infrastructure is being taken down. The Army’s new CX-I enclave will ensure operations continue in Afghanistan without skipping a beat. Utilizing GRRIPs, Soldiers can now draw coalition network services over satellite transport from the CX-I enclave at the Fort Dix SNOC, instead of the contractor facilities in Afghanistan. Not only does this solution provide continuity of operations, but it is expected to save approximately $900,000 a year by consolidating the Afghanistan Network Operations Center and all of the associated services into the WIN-T SNOC, leveraging the existing network and services.
The PdM SATCOM team completed this intensive effort in four months, from the time it received funding, to the full approved operation of the new CX-I enclave at the SNOC. This included the testing, configuration and fielding of all the GRRIP “kits.”
“Afghanistan could shut down completely and with the GRRIP kit, users will still be able to connect to the coalition network and operations can continue seamlessly,” said Jim Sawall, PdM SATCOM’s assistant PdM for the Commercial Satellite Terminal Program and GRRIP project lead.
GRRIPs are small enough to fit in the overhead bin of an airplane, and can be set up and on the air in less than five minutes. They provide network communications and access to mission command applications, as well as supporting calls-for-fire and MedEvac requests. They provide secure and non-secure communications to forces operating in austere and demanding environments such as embedded training teams and other small units that do not have access to the network equipment and infrastructure of established forward operating bases. This commercial-off-the-shelf terminal is designed for small teams entering locations where the infrastructure has either been dismantled, destroyed or hasn’t been built up yet, and is perfect for first responder communications.
“When you’re working in a coalition environment, which we are in Afghanistan, you need communications to be up and running to coordinate command and control operations,” Sawall said. “From a wartime risk mitigation perspective, GRRIP will keep operations going even if the network infrastructure in remote areas has been destroyed.”
This version of GRRIP is designed to enable small teams to gain access to CX-I. From a broader scope both WIN-T Increment 1, the Army’s at-the-halt tactical communications network backbone, and WIN-T Increment 2, which provides advanced network services on-the-move, have assets in Afghanistan that are connected to CX-I. As U.S. forces draw down, these WIN-T network assets will return to the U.S. Other capabilities managed by PdM SATCOM along with the GRRIP will help fill that network gap, such as Secure Internet Protocol Router/Non-secure Internet Protocol Access Pointm ground satellite terminals, which are used at the company echelon and small combat outposts; and Deployable Ku-band Earth Terminals, which support larger hub locations for long haul transport both intra- and inter-theater. Together with the GRRIP, these capabilities will pick up the remaining load and help support enduring forces as WIN-T assets are returned to the states, said Pat DeGroodt, deputy product manager for PdM WIN-T Increment 2.
If needed, depending upon mission requirements, GRIPPs can also be reconfigured for use on SIPR, NIPR or CX–Korea networks. Whichever configuration is utilized, GRRIP capabilities fall in line with the Army priorities to provide a rapidly deployable, expeditionary and capable force. This solution provides critical communication anywhere in the world in less than five minutes with absolutely no reconfiguration required
“GRRIP allows you to keep that connection wherever you go,” Newman said. “You don’t need an infrastructure; you don’t need a building; as long as you have this kit with you, you have connection to CENTRIX-I.”