FORT POLK, La. — The Army opened the “gate” once blocking commanders at home station from being able to conduct real-time mission command and data exchange with Soldiers on distant battlefields, by simplifying the way data is exchanged over the greater Department of Defense (DOD) network.
The Army’s new Global Agile Integrated Transport (GAIT) framework leverages the worldwide Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Regional Hub Nodes (RHNs) to seamlessly sew together the tactical network into one global architecture.
The five WIN-T RHNs are the largest satellite and network transport nodes in the Army’s unified Tactical Communications Network, enabling the exchange of network communication in, out and within theater. WIN-T equipment enables mission command, robust voice, video and data communications and situational awareness both at-the-halt and on-the-move, even in the most remote and austere locations.
In the GAIT architecture, data exchange remains on the Tactical Network, and can now, because of recent RHN upgrades, be securely passed along from one RHN to another or from home station to a deployed unit. GAIT eliminates the need to push data from an RHN up and over the higher “enterprise” portion of the greater DOD Information Network (DODIN) to get it back to home station or to another location across the globe. The new architecture significantly simplifies the network, making it easier to plan, operate, manage and troubleshoot.
“GAIT can enable corps and division-level commanders at home station to conduct seamless real-time global mission command and more easily exchange information with subordinate units fighting halfway around the world,” said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, product manager (PdM) for WIN-T Increment 1, which manages the RHNs and the GAIT capability.
“It is a viable solution to distributed mission command and network convergence that works, at no additional cost to the taxpayer, since it leverages existing relationships, underutilized DOD assets and technical modifications already made to the RHNs in support other requirements,” Henderson said.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (2/25 ID) successfully used the new GAIT network architecture for the first time during its Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) rotation at Fort Polk in February. From home station more than 4000 miles away, communications officers at the 25th ID Headquarters in Hawaii were able to conduct mission command and exchanged real-time data with the 2/25 ID on the ground at the JRTC during the unit’s decisive action training.
“My cyber defenders at the JRTC used the GAIT on a daily and hourly basis for cyber defense reach back to Hawaii,” said Lt. Col. Brian Jorgenson, 25th ID G6 (communications officer). “One of the reasons they were so successful was the availability and reliability of the GAIT.”
In an additional innovative move to enable uninterrupted mission command, during its JRTC rotation 2/25 ID placed one of its mission command application server stacks, known as Battle Command Common Services (BCCS), at the CONUS East RHN, safely in sanctuary, versus placing it forward on the battlefield with the unit, potentially vulnerable to enemy attacks. With this new solution, if the brigade main Command Post server stack is damaged in the fight or when it’s disconnected during a jump (relocation), other dispersed emblements on the battlefield can still maintain continual connectivity to the server at the RHN to enable uninterrupted mission command.
The solution increases the unit’s agility, maneuverability, and operational flexibility. The 2/25 ID’s implementation successfully proved the concept of distributed mission command using organic assets within the tactical formation.
“This is the first step to having a true ‘cloud-based’ mission command server environment,” Jorgenson said.
In the near future, because of the GAIT capability, units will be able to leave a server stack back at their division headquarters at home station, while still retaining full mission command of the battlefield.
The GAIT network architecture is a simple solution, but the Army didn’t have the capability to implement it until recent RHN upgrades, and DODIN and DOD Teleport Program partnerships were in place. GAIT flattens the network and simplifies the transport by keeping the tactical mission command traffic flow on the tactical network without introducing additional layers, said Joe Vano, PdM WIN-T Increment 1 Core Group lead.
“Every time a higher layer of enterprise or network management is introduced, so are additional firewalls, routing, ports, circuits, procedures, routing, and operators — all of that equates to complexity, which creates network roadblocks and hinders the tactical commander’s intent on the battlefield,” Vano said.
GAIT is a no-cost byproduct of technical modifications and upgrades Project Manager WIN-T implemented in support of the Army’s Network Transport Convergence efforts, which aim to collapse disparate intelligence, medical and logistics networks onto the WIN-T tactical network.
Because of multiple upgrades made to the RHNs, they are now able to accommodate the new network architecture. Other RHN initiatives have positioned the RHN’s to handle the increased customer base that will be incurred when these other networks are eventually folded into the Tactical Network backbone. Additionally, the RHNs can now enable the Army to seamlessly extend the tactical network to home station.
“Because of the forward-thinking engineering choices the team made with the RHN upgrades, we now we have the opportunity to efficiently simplify and flatten the network in a new way, while making the entire tactical network more robust and resilient,” Vano said.
GAIT could significantly enhance operations for division and corps headquarters, as well as other command units that remain at home station and send support elements forward, such as expeditionary signal battalions; the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE); or Army North.
Senior leaders at home station now have network visibility using the same mission command applications, such as Command Post of the Future, and seeing the same real time screens that Soldiers are seeing in the battlefield, as if they were standing right beside them.
GAIT can also enable communications officers at home station to help with the network tasks of busy warrant officers on the battlefield, such as planning, monitoring and controlling the health and welfare of the network, or injecting defensive cyber security into the network. Other operational applications include the significant enhancement of cyber defense, air and missile defense, and worldwide Army training exercises such as Joint Army Warfighting Assessments and Pacific Pathways.
The XVIII Airborne Division’s Global Response Force will utilize GAIT to support its WIN-T Enroute Mission Command capability, which provides in-flight mission command and situational awareness via the Tactical Network. The solution is flexible without adding additional complexity.
As the Army continues to arm its regionally-aligned forces for future contingencies on multiple shores and domains, it is moving away from deploying enormous division-sized elements as it had in the past, to deploying tailored, agile units forward, with higher headquarters remaining behind, Henderson said.
“GAIT could fulfill the Army’s long-standing desire to enable commanders to manage missions from home station, at the earliest phases of operations and throughout the mission, and reduce the footprint of a deployed combat or humanitarian force,” Henderson said.
By Amy Walker, PEO C3T