Military technology doesn't simply spring forth fully formed from a DARPA engineer's head and into some foreign country. It requires extensive development cycles and field testing before it's put on the front lines. At this year's semi-annual Network Integration Evaluations (NIE) at the White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico, US Army researchers put a trio of technologies through their paces. Technologies that could radically alter how future wars are waged by delivering a more complete battlefield view to troops in the line of fire.
Aside from testing the devices themselves, the NIE gives commanders a chance to integrate the new technology into their existing tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). “Over the last few NIEs, the network has become much more stable than it was," said Col. Beth Bierden, chief of the Network Integration Division at Brigade Modernization Command. "We are able to get at the TTPs and figure out mission command and do all that kind of stuff much more now than we have in the past, when we were really just trying to figure out the architecture.” Here are three systems expected to make the biggest impact on tomorrow's battlefield.
Originally known as the Ground Soldier System, the Nett Warrior is an integrated situational awareness system for dismounted combat leaders (those not sitting in a HumVee or remote command center). It's a mini-map that notes every squad member's positions (to avoid friendly fire and set more effective crossfires) as well as a host of other pertinent tactical and navigation information that's shared amongst the squad over secured radio waves using Rifleman Radios.
It effectively becomes a tiny, mobile ad hoc network—known as the On-The-Move self-forming network—whose voice, data, and GPS information can be displayed either on a mobile handset or on the soldier's HUD. What's more, commanders can use the system to access Secret or Sensitive-but-Unclassified ISR information during on-the-fly mission planning. And even if the commander is incapacitated or killed in action, the next-most senior member of the group will be able to pick up where the previous commander left off.
Network coverage is spotty even in the backstreets of Grimsby; what makes you think you'll get any bars in the wilds of Afghanistan? So instead of relying on the Big Three, future soldiers will carry their network along with them. Known as the Warfighter Information Network - Tactical Increment 2, this network will form the basis of the entire Army's secured troop communication services.
WIN-T will enable commanders to track (via voice, video, and data) and coordinate a mobile and dispersed strike force from anywhere on the battlefield while remaining tapped into the US Army's intel network. The system consists of infrastructure and network components that securely relay satellite and terrestrial tactical communications (known as Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance—C4ISR) between individual soldiers and command.
So rather than shouting into a walkie-talkie during the pitch of battle to get status updates from the squad's radio operator, the WIN-T network will allow commanders to monitor and redeploy forces in real time as well as transmit tactical information—everything from Ku-band RADAR and Super High Frequency datalinks to GPS and the Secure, Mobile, Anti-Jam, Reliable, Tactical - Terminal (SMART-T). Think of it as a secured, miniature Internet that exists only within a theater of operations but spans from the front lines to the rear guard.
There are a lot of moving pieces on a battlefield. So to make sure that elements from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines are all on the same page, there's the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS).
The DCGS is the primary means of analyzing and disseminating ISR data—from the weather forecast to threat assessments—collected by the the drones flying overhead. It comprises 45 geographically distinct, networked sites manned by a mixture of active-duty, national guard, and reservists service members. And while previous human-based systems required weeks of analysis to deliver actionable results, the cloud-based DCGS churns through millions of data points in near real time.
“It was not that long ago that intelligence analysis was a very labour-intensive business,” explained Col. Charles Wells, the project manager for the US Army's wing of the DCGS. “With the cloud and with lightweight applications that run analytics, we can now look through all that data—all 20 million records—and literally in a matter of seconds to minutes get a diagram that has been provided and start the analysis from there. We're not having to filter the data. We're not having to look at a subset of the data. We're looking at every one of those records in real time, and getting an answer.”