Army steps closer to converging intel/mission command networks

The Modular Communications Node-Advanced Enclave (MCN-AE) lab-based risk reduction concluded in April 2017 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, and the final results will support a fielding decision for the capability. MCN-AE enables users to pass intelligence data over the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) network. | U.S. Army CERDEC photo

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — The Army successfully conducted a lab-based risk reduction event in support of continuing efforts to simplify and enhance battlefield data exchange by converging its intelligence network onto its tactical mission command network.

“This phase of network transport convergence will provide units with a more dynamic, robust and redundant means of relaying intelligence traffic across the battlefield and back to home station using a significantly smaller footprint,” said Maj. Donnell Langley, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Capability Manager for Network and Services (TCM N&S) lead system engineer.

Currently, the Army’s tactical operations, intelligence, logistics and medical communities each use separate communications networks to pass information. In the long run, the Army’s goal is to converge the intelligence, logistics and medical networks onto the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) tactical operations network, which will be conducted in a phased approach.

The Modular Communications Node-Advanced Enclave (MCN-AE) uses a unit’s organic Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) network transport equipment to relay intelligence data across the battlefield. WIN-T Satellite Transportable Terminals (STTs) are seen here during the MCN-AE lab-based risk reduction in April 2017 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. | U.S. Army CERDEC photo

At the heart of the effort is the lightweight and expeditionary, small form factor Modular Communications Node-Advanced Enclave (MCN-AE). This network “box” augments the existing intelligence network, enabling intelligence users to connect to all of the same resources they have when using the traditional Trojan Intelligence Network, but instead using the WIN-T Tactical Network. The MCN-AE lab-based risk reduction concluded in April at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and the final results will support a fielding decision for the capability.

“The biggest difference between the MCN-AE versus the intelligence network equipment is that the MCN-AE enables the commander conducting operational missions to dynamically assign bandwidth between his tactical mission command and intelligence assets as he sees fit, so he can fight his fight, for his unique mission and problem set,” Langley said. “With MCN-AE, the commander can reassign additional bandwidth on demand. If he needs more intel bandwidth he can pull some from his mission command assets and vice versa, depending on need.”

WIN-T provides the network transport to enable mission command, voice, video and data communications and situational awareness both at-the-halt and on-the-move, even in the most remote and austere locations. WIN-T is a more robust and redundant network, with multiple satellite and line-of-sight link alternatives, so it can deliver that needed redundancy to the intelligence community, said Maj. Keith Jordan, Assistant Product Manager for WIN-T Increment 1, which also manages MCN-AE for the Army.

“With the WIN-T network, if one link goes down, the network can use an alternate path to ensure that critical intelligence data gets through,” Jordan said. “Additionally, having a line-of-sight or beyond-line-of-sight option will help enable the transfer of intelligence data in satellite denied environments.”

During Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 15.2 and NIE 16.1, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division demonstrated the benefits of the WIN-T MCN-AE and phase one (Intelligence) of network transport convergence.

Improving the expeditionary nature of today’s force is a high priority for the Army, and footprint is a critical factor. Each MCN-AE fits into a suitcase-sized case, and the system uses a unit’s organic WIN-T network transport equipment to relay intelligence data across the battlefield. As the Army strives to reduce the size of the command post footprint for increased maneuverability, MCN-AE’s significant size, weight and power, or SWaP, reductions support a more agile and mobile force.

“It’s less equipment; you don’t have to hitch up an extra satellite terminal and generator; you can toss the transit cases in the back of a truck [or aircraft] and move a lot faster, which we demonstrated at NIE 16.2,” Langley said.

During the lab-based risk reduction event, engineers severely stressed the MCN-AE system to highlight the way data traffic flows over the converged WIN-T network when data loads are at their maximum rates. The team tested the MCN-AE Quality Of Service (QOS), which marks and gives priority to critical intel and mission command traffic. MCN-AE QOS can be manipulated to meet the commander’s intent to allocate the available bandwidth to meet current mission demands.

“During this event, we are demonstrating that the bandwidth can be shaped and managed, because sometimes satellite bandwidth is limited. We need to be able to prioritize that traffic,” said Mark Jurik, Communications Electronic Command (CECOM) Information Systems Engineer Command, who serve as the liaison to both the WIN-T and Trojan Network program offices for the test.

The ability to dynamically allocate bandwidth at will and have a redundant means of network transport are huge pluses for the Army. The face that the battlefield has dramatically changed over the last decade, with adversaries becoming increasingly capable, increases the need for U.S. Army units to be more informed, integrated, flexible and expeditionary than ever before, said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, the PdM for WIN-T Increment 1.

“Looking forward, redundant and reliable network links will play a key role in defeating potential enemies who are becoming increasingly technologically advanced.”

By Amy Walker, PEO Command, Control, Communications-Tactical

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