A massive US Army network test, termed the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), which kicked off at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico last week, will evaluate capabilities of a developmental vehicle-mounted company command post system intended to give enhanced on-the-move networking to company commanders.
Keeping a mobile commander well informed can be tough. Communications trouble, both technical and environmental in nature can cause a leader at any level to not feel he has enough information to make the right decision. In combat this lack of information is so common it’s earned itself the name “fog of war.”
“A key portion of the Network Integration Evaluation will take a look at collapsing networked battle and mission command capabilities into mobile company command post platforms,” said Paul Mehney, chief of public communications for Program Executive Office Integration, one of the offices involved in the evaluation.
“This may give company commanders the ability to take advanced network technology with them as they move around the operational environment — they will no longer need to be tied to a static location to receive mission command information,” he explained
NIE will bring together several different sets of communications equipment that are expected to allow for better communications among soldiers. The test will also see newly networked vehicles such as Strykers and MRAPs rolling through the range’s rough deserts and giving the commanders on the ground more information than they previously had.
Company command vehicles are specially equipped and loaded with communications and display gear intended to give the company commander access to the same kind of information normally only available in a command tent.
“If the evaluations go well for this concept it could end up being huge for the Army, giving that small unit commander the mobility that he needs to move around his area of operations,” said Mehney.
One of the concept vehicles to be used in the evaluation is an M-ATV, an all terrain armoured truck seeing extensive use in Afghanistan, but the communications package is being developed for use in a wide range of vehicles.
“If you’re a Stryker company commander then your command post vehicle will be a Stryker,” said Richard Steinau, the network synchronization centre lab manager. “If you have a mechanized company (it will be a different vehicle) so this is all adaptable to the unit you’re assigning it to.”
The decision to include the company command vehicle package in the evaluation came via feedback from troops in the field.
“One of the biggest lessons learned in theatre out of the company commanders was: ‘We are tied down, we cannot manoeuvre around our battle space because we do not have the connectivity,'” Mehney said.
In response to this feedback the prototype company command post packages were rapidly assembled by Program Executive Office C3T and Integration and then rapidly inserted into the evaluation process.
The NIE will be conducted at White Sands with the goal of evaluating various different sets of network equipment being developed for future use.
The test efforts will include more than 4 000 soldiers, contractors and civilians, and will take place at a number of locations on the range White Sands was chosen for the evaluation because it represents communications-challenging terrain, and overall environment similar to Afghanistan.