ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland — Have you ever gotten frustrated trying to follow inaccurate or confusing directions while troubleshooting your home network? You may feel like tossing the directions and your computer right out the window. Now imagine troubleshooting with ambiguous directions while under enemy fire, with your commander standing over your shoulder waiting for you to get his critical network connection up and running. On the battlefield, clear and accurate technical manuals can be just as important as the capabilities they support.
The Army conducts logistics demonstrations, or “log demos,” to prevent stressful scenarios like this one. Log demos evaluate the adequacy of system support packages and training and technical manuals as part of the acquisition sequence of events when fielding a new capability, or when an existing capability has been significantly enhanced. Log demos reduce fielding risk and Soldier burden by ensuring that units have the logistical capability needed to successfully operate, maintain and troubleshoot the system in the field. Operational readiness is one of the Army’s top priorities, and strong sustainment packages directly support this critical goal.
Additionally, as the Army continues to reduce reliance on contracted field service representative (FSR) support to improve efficiencies, strong system support packages become increasingly important to help fill that void. FSRs troubleshoot and mentor in both training and field environments, but the Army is moving away from this expensive external support toward a model defined by more organic unit accountability for system sustainment.
Project Manager for Warfighter Information Network — Tactical (PM WIN-T), the Army’s tactical network program office assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications — Tactical (PEO C3T), conducted a successful Soldier-supported log demo for several expeditionary network signal modernization (SigMod) capabilities that are not programs of record at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland, in February. These new tactical network transport systems provide high- bandwidth network connections in small, easy-to-deploy packages. Soldier feedback and results from the log demo will support pilots and material release requirements and will provide additional confidence in the subsequent fielding of these expeditionary network systems.
“Never underestimate the complexity of simplicity,” said Sgt. Lawrence Seeman, who operates and maintains WIN-T Satellite Transportable Terminals for the Delaware Army National Guard’s 198th Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB), which supported the SigMod log demo. “It’s the little things, the simple things, that can create a more complicated problem. We are helping to point out any deficiencies in the technical manual so [PEO C3T] can make it more streamlined, functional and easy to follow.”
NETWORKING AN AGILE FORCE
PM WIN-T delivers a powerful “tool kit” of expeditionary line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight network capabilities to every echelon and at every stage of operations. In addition, the PM will soon field six SigMod capabilities to augment and expand the transport capability of the tactical network. These capabilities will deliver expeditionary network communication for early-entry units and units at the farthest tactical edge of the battlefield, while reducing size, weight and power needs for increased agility.
The SigMod log demo included four specific SigMod capabilities: Commercial Coalition Equipment (CCE); the Modular Communications Node-Advanced Enclave (MCN-AE); Secure 4G LTE and Secure tactical Wi-Fi. These expeditionary network technologies modernize and extend the Army’s tactical network. Once fielded, they will provide significantly increased capability in small deployable packages that Soldiers can set up and tear down rapidly for improved unit agility, enabling units to apply this new technology where the enemy will least expect it.
The SigMod tool suite includes the versatile CCE, which is packed in an easy-to-deploy, suitcase-sized transit case. The CCE provides secure expeditionary network connectivity for coalition, non-secure internet protocol router, secure internet protocol router and commercial networks. It can be reconfigured rapidly to provide secure tactical access to the coalition or commercial network to support both civil and military operations. Additionally, CCE provides a radio bridging voice cross-banding capability that enables radios on different frequencies, or different equipment like radios or cellphones, to connect seamlessly to one another. This is essential in domestic humanitarian disaster response or coalition operations where countries and organizational entities each use different equipment.
The MCN-AE uses the same network-agnostic hardware as the CCE, reconfigured to enable intelligence users to connect to all the same resources they would typically expect when using the Army’s separate intelligence network, in this case using a unit’s organic WIN-T tactical network equipment instead. The MCN-AE is significantly smaller than the tactical elements of the Army’s separate Trojan SPIRIT intelligence system (a large truck and trailer) and can be used to augment the intelligence community in areas where the standard equipment is not available.
Secure Wi-Fi uses National Security Agency-approved “commercial solutions for classified” capability to provide secure classified and unclassified Wi-Fi inside the command post. Going wireless can reduce command post setup and teardown times by hours and reduce the amount of cable with protective flooring that needs to be transported from location to location. It can also untethered Soldiers from their workstations for improved collaboration. Most importantly, it reduces network downtime significantly. Units can turn on their Wi-Fi hotspot and see the network come up first instead of last, in minutes instead of hours. Soldiers can stay connected longer when relocating their command post.
The secure 4G LTE capability will support a larger footprint surrounding the command post. This technology will extend the communications flexibility and reduce the weight Soldiers carry as they transition from bulky radios to smartphones.
The WIN-T SigMod tool suite also includes the easy-to-deploy, high-bandwidth terrestrial transmission line-of-sight radio and the range-extending troposcatter transmission capability, each of which will have separate log demos.
All of the SigMod capabilities are designed for simplicity, to make it easier for Soldiers to set up, operate, troubleshoot and maintain. As the Army continues to shrink the number of FSRs in the field, reducing system complexity is key to enabling units to support their own network systems.
THE HUMAN FACTOR
PM WIN-T specifically chose Soldiers from the 198th ESB to support the SigMod log demo in February not only because of the unit’s close proximity to APG, but more importantly, its previous exposure to the SigMod systems as part of a Disaster Incident Response Emergency Communications Terminal (DIRECT) risk reduction event in August 2016. DIRECT leverages the National Guard’s organic WIN-T tactical network equipment together with some of the new SigMod capabilities to link first responders and emergency managers with state and federal authorities during natural disaster, emergency and civil support operations. PM WIN-T will field DIRECT to all states and territories with a National Guard presence. The capability is expected to be fully fielded by 2025, and pilots are underway. The SigMod log demo supports the Army National Guard DIRECT fieldings as well as SigMod fieldings to active Army units in support of military contingencies and humanitarian efforts around the world.
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capability managers also supported the log demo to ensure that the training and technical manuals provide optimal support to units in the field. Providing solid new equipment training and ensuring that Soldiers remain well-trained throughout a product’s life cycle are vital to the success of any system, and the new expeditionary SigMod capabilities are no exception. The log demo team also included representatives from the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command’s Directorate for Safety, who provided system safety releases. Safety requirements and specifications are critical elements of quality assurance both for the execution of the log demo and to ensure proper operation of the capability in the field.
Additionally, since these are commercial off-the-shelf products, industry was on site during the log demo to provide support and insight, as were Army technical writers to help make corrections to the technical manuals and ensure clarity and functionality in the language and graphics.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR FIELDING SUCCESS
In September 2016, months before the log demo, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition policy and logistics hosted the operational sustainment review (OSR) for PM WIN-T’s Increment 1 product manager, which manages the SigMod capabilities. Preparation for this intensive logistical review took approximately nine months. The information learned before, during and throughout the OSR helped to reinforce and shape improvements to the sustainment strategy and acquisition approach.
As part of the SigMod log demo, Soldiers received refresher training on the various capabilities to ensure their optimal participation and feedback during the event. Next, they relied on the training and technical manuals to set up the equipment, link to the satellites, and to operate, troubleshoot and tear down each of the systems. Along the way, the Soldiers provided feedback to clarify and correct discrepancies in the technical manuals and ensure that they were functional.
The PM WIN-T log demo team purposely introduced faults into the system, at varying levels of difficulty. The Soldiers were able to follow the troubleshooting guide in the manuals to fix the issues successfully while offering feedback on how to improve or simplify the steps, language, flow charts and graphics.
The trained Soldiers pointed out discrepancies in the technical manuals that could trip up a busy user in the field, such as an instance in the troubleshooting flow chart that pointed the user to the wrong place. Another discrepancy was caught in the technical manual of the 4G LTE system when the team inserted a fault into the system that required a system restart. The technical manual did not state that after fixing the fault, users should wait 10 minutes before restarting–allowing the host server to communicate to the other server any changes to the hard drive to ensure that all the information is saved properly.
The log demo team was also able to provide information on setup and teardown times, and how fast Soldiers were able to identify and correct issues.
Going through the technical manuals sentence by sentence, word by word, may seem like a lot of extra work, but it can make the difference between a successfully supported system and one that is not.
“It is important that we test the systems thoroughly so the technical manual works the way it’s supposed to work, and if capability does break in the field and Soldiers have to use the technical manual to troubleshoot it, they can get it to work without any problems,” said Sgt. Justin Diamond, senior WIN-T Joint Network Node operator for A Company, 198th ESB.
After the actual log demo event, technical writers updated the manuals with the Soldiers’ feedback. After fielding the capabilities, PM WIN-T will continue to update the manuals throughout each product’s life cycle. Soldiers can request changes or email questions to the PM on items they think may need clarification. Units will have digital access to the manuals, which is more secure and efficient than fielding hard copies and will enable the PM to provide continual updates to the manuals.
Log demos may not sound very glamorous, but they play a critical role in the acquisition process and the successful fielding and support of Army capabilities. They reduce fielding risk, increase efficiencies and provide confidence in capability support packages.
The expeditionary SigMod suite of equipment will modernize the network and significantly increase operational flexibility. The WIN-T SigMod log demo reinforced the fact that, having fielded these agile network capabilities, the Army will be able to maintain and support them using the established support package.
“Having us go through the equipment, the training manual and the troubleshooting definitely helps, because Soldiers are the ones using this equipment, so it should be based on our input and not [solely] on that of engineers,” said Sgt. Gina Mazzola, network operator for the 198th ESB. “I appreciate that we had a say in the improvement of these capabilities, especially since it supports our brothers and sisters in arms.”
For more information, go to the PEO C3T website at http://peoc3t.army.mil/c3t/, the PM WIN-T website at http://peoc3t.army.mil/wint/, or contact the PEO C3T Public Affairs Office at 443-395-6489 or usarmy.APG.firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is scheduled to be published in the July-September 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.